Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for Senate in Alabama, gained then lost thousands of apparently fake Twitter followers in the space of a few hours — a situation that his campaign blamed on Democrats.
“We highly doubt that reporters across the country spend most of their free time on Sunday breaking away from church, family, and football to review the Twitter followers of various candidates across the country,” Moore’s campaign said in an emailed statement. “It is more likely that Doug Jones and Democrat operatives are pulling a political stunt on Twitter and alerting their friends in the media.”
The saga did begin on Sunday, when multiple Twitter users noticed that Moore’s account had nearly doubled its follower count, from slightly more than 26,000 to more than 47,000, in less than a week. At least 1,100 of the new followers had Russian names and Twitter bios, often consisting of pure gibberish such as “Master of Plastic Shackles” and “to be a little girl.”
The Moore campaign, which did not respond to a question from The Washington Post, told the Montgomery Advertiser that it had “absolutely nothing to do” with the follower surge, and that it had not purchased followers. By early Monday afternoon, 6,000 of the new followers had been purged, with the campaign telling the Advertiser that it had asked Twitter for help. Shortly thereafter, the campaign issued a statement asking if Democrats had been behind the bot surge.
“It’s not surprising that they’d choose the favorite topic of MSNBC and the Fake News outlets — the Russia conspiracy,” said the campaign. “Democrats can’t win this election on the issues and their desperation is on full display.”
The Russian bot farce, handled in a matter of hours, is unlikely to have an impact on Moore’s race. But since securing the GOP nomination on Sept. 26, a victory that conservative activists seized on as the first skirmish in a war with the party’s “corporatists” and “establishment,” Moore has not united Republicans around his campaign as decisively as Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee, has united his party.
On Monday morning, Jones’s campaign announced that it had raised $1.3 million since July, spiking in the days after Moore secured the Republican nomination. Over the weekend, Jones announced endorsements from the pro-gay-rights Human Rights Campaign and the environmentalist League of Conservation Voters, groups that typically support Democrats but sometime sit out tough races.
Jones also went on the air, for the first time, with an ad that portrayed him as a pragmatist who would work with Republicans on Alabama’s behalf.
“Our leaders have lost sight of what it means to serve,” says Jones in the ad. “We need leaders people can talk to and trust, even if they don’t agree on everything.”
Moore’s campaign, meanwhile, has not won over the D.C.-based GOP groups that tried to stop him from getting the nomination. In an email to the Birmingham News, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce suggested that it would sit out the race. In an email to The Washington Post, Senate Leadership Fund strategist Stephen Law said it was unlikely that the super PAC would need to intervene in Alabama.
“We said we supported Moore the night of the runoff and haven’t ruled anything out since then,” said Law. “Moore’s lead is smaller than the typical Republican running statewide, but it would still be a tough row to hoe for Democrats.”
Moore, meanwhile, has spent the weeks since his victory building support with his conservative base — a block of voters typically big enough to secure Republican victories in Alabama. Over the weekend, he delivered his first major post-election speech at the Values Voter Summit in D.C., talking more about the diminished role of morality in public life than about the race itself.
“Don’t you know God’s not acceptable in this system, this political arena?” asked Moore. “Are we going to allow the government to take over the health-care industry when today you see the problems we have with the VA hospitals?”
In the first days after Moore’s victory, some Republicans worried that his more extreme views would become problems for the party’s other candidates. By and large, the GOP has avoided that problem. At Monday’s impromptu news conference, President Trump blew past specific questions about Moore’s beliefs to say that he would be talking with the candidate soon.
“I’m going to be meeting with Roy sometime next week, and we’re going to talk to him about a lot of different things,” said Trump. “He ran a very strong race. The people of Alabama, who I like very much and they like me very much — but they like Roy.”