Doug Jones defeats Roy Moore for the U.S. Senate seat from Alabama

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama speaks to his election-night party in Montgomery after losing the special vote. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The surreal battle for Alabama’s open Senate seat unfolded over a split screen Tuesday, as Democratic nominee Doug Jones and Republican nominee Roy Moore answered questions just moments apart and miles away.

Moore gave his first interview in 11 days to Scott Beason, a former Republican legislator who now hosts the Birmingham-based talk show “More to the Story.” Just hours after President Trump tacitly endorsed his campaign, the embattled Moore, like Trump, argued that Alabama voters faced a clear choice between a liberal and a conservative.

“If you ask me the difference between myself and Doug Jones? Everything,” Moore told Beason. “I want a wall. I want to stop illegal aliens. There’s just so many differences. I believe in rights. They believe in transgender rights. We’re talking about women’s rights here. Who stands for women’s rights? Those who stand for transgender rights, same-sex marriage? That’s undermining women.”

On Nov. 9, The Washington Post first reported allegations of sexual misconduct between Moore and a woman when she was 14 and he was 32. The report also included other women who say they were pursued by Moore when they were teenagers. Since the publication of The Post’s report, other women have stepped forward to make similar accusations.

Moore has repeatedly denied the allegations, but he has answered few questions. His first interview about the story was given to Fox News host Sean Hannity, who finished it so unimpressed that he briefly threatened to call for Moore’s resignation. Hannity backed down from the threat after Moore challenged his accusers’ facts.

Stan Cooke suggested on Nov. 21 that there were problems with Beverly Young Nelson’s allegations that Moore sexually assaulted her outside a restaurant in 1977. (Reuters)

Earlier Tuesday, Moore dispatched three campaign allies to insist that the stories were fake, and that even Fox News was treating the candidate unfairly — the latest of several “press conferences” in which the campaign lectured reporters, then refused to answer questions.

Beason, by contrast, gave Moore a friendly and supportive platform. “Hear from him and not the media,” Beason tweeted before the show went live. On the air, he explained that he wanted Moore to speak “without a bunch of liberal reporters screaming like yappy dogs asking dumb questions.” He made it clear that he, like many of Moore’s supporters, doubted the accusers’ stories.

That was Moore’s cue to deny the stories again. He claimed that both Beverly Nelson, who said that Moore assaulted her at age 16, and Leigh Corfman, who said that Moore did the same when she was 14, were fabricators. Moore also echoed his campaign team, suggesting that he might sue his accusers after gathering “evidence” to debunk their stories.

“I didn’t know Beverly Nelson, and I didn’t know Leigh Corfman,” Moore said. “I never dated underage women, and I never engaged in sexual misconduct with anybody.”

In that statement, however, Moore slightly contradicted what he’d told Hannity: That he may, in fact, have dated young women, but only with the approval of their parents.

Moore went on to attack the mainstream media again, accusing reporters of ignoring his wife, Kayla, after she held a media event defending him.

“They didn’t like it, and they didn’t print it,” he said. In fact, the Kayla Moore statement was widely covered.

After Beason ran through his questions, Moore told the host he was eager to “get back to the campaign.” In a small irony, he had just skipped a potential campaign event — a candidate forum at First Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville. Laura Hall, a black Democratic state representative, had invited both Moore and Jones to address voters. Jones accepted, while Moore, who has refused to debate Jones, did not.

The result was that Jones got to address an overwhelmingly Democratic audience of a few hundred people. For the second time — the first was at a news conference nearby — he responded to Trump’s endorsement of Moore, which had largely consisted of calling Jones a “soft on crime” liberal.

“They finally started calling me names,” Jones said. “I expected that. I’ve been called names before.”

Most of the evening, however, was spent on the policy differences that had nearly disappeared from the campaign. For the first time since it was introduced, Jones was asked, with cameras rolling, whether he’d vote for the Senate’s version of tax reform. Jones said that unlike some Democrats, he favored lower corporate tax rates, thinking they would make business more competitive. He went on to trash every other aspect of the tax bill.

“Just like the health-care bill, someone’s hiding behind the cloak room drafting this thing,” Jones said. “They’re not talking to y’all. They’re not holding hearings.”

On the specifics of the bill, Jones described it as confusingly hard on lower-income voters and on graduate students. He’d prefer any tax reform to be revenue-neutral, he said; as it was, the tax bill was financed by deficit spending but slanted toward the rich.

“I do not think the working men and women of this country need to shoulder all that debt just so the wealthy get tax breaks for luxury jets,” Jones said. He did not get asked about the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate as part of the tax bill, but suggested, separately, that insurers were suffering from uncertainty about policy changes.

On other issues, from criminal justice reform to education spending, Jones presented himself as a pragmatic liberal. He favored promoting “alternatives to four-year colleges,” as well as body cameras for police officers. Jones, a former U.S. attorney, invoked his experience in the 1990s when Alabama’s fast-growing population of Latino immigrants became a challenge to law enforcement.

“There were some very good police officers that had trouble understanding the language, understanding the customs,” Jones said. “And we had a few bad ones, too, that we had to prosecute for what they were doing to the Hispanic community. So we had trainings. We brought in police officers to the community. We’ve got to do that all over.”

Jones was asked only glancingly about an issue that Republicans hope can pull voters back to Moore — abortion. Handed a question about alternatives to abortion, Jones talked about funding for prenatal care and early childhood health. It was hardly a discussion of the “full-birth abortion” rights that the Moore campaign had accused Jones of supporting. But with Moore in a studio 100 miles away, Jones had the room to himself and left to a standing ovation.