In the final hours of a deeply unpredictable race, Moore’s absentee approach to campaigning has been making headlines. Media outlets that began swarming the state over the weekend found Jones darting around central Alabama, flanked by Democratic surrogates such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and pausing to take questions on camera.
Those same outlets could not find Moore. The candidate, last seen speaking in public at a rally on Tuesday in southeast Alabama, was not scheduled to face voters again until Monday night’s upcoming rally in a different part of southeast Alabama. When pressed on the lax schedule, the campaign said that it was protecting Alabamians from a nagging, prying media.
“Out of respect for people who want to worship without reporters hanging over their heads gawking, no, he did not attend church this morning,” campaign adviser Brett Doster told BuzzFeed. (Last month, Doster said that he would “not respond to anyone from the Post now or in the future.”)
In the past, candidates who’ve been out-stumped in a campaign’s final weeks have lived to regret it. In 2010, a week before a critical U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee told the Boston Globe that she was focusing on winning over party leaders rather than “shaking hands outside Fenway, in the cold.” Republican nominee Scott Brown, who had worked the crowd outside of a Boston Bruins game, went on to defeat her.
But there’s little Republican worry about that kind of history repeating in Alabama. While national media has questioned the candidate’s low-key campaigning, local media has generally covered each day of the race as an exchange of blows, with most of them thrown by Republicans who are not Roy Moore. President Trump’s repeated interventions in favor of Moore have made headlines every day.
“Media filled the void,” said Dale Jackson, a conservative radio host in north Alabama.
The Moore campaign’s approach has limited the discussion of issues in the race, possibly to Moore’s advantage. Last week, when a Birmingham news station approached both Moore and Jones for 16-question policy interviews, Jones’s campaign obliged, while Moore’s passed.
“The Moore campaign turned down our invitation to answer the same questions, saying Tuesday night to WHNT, it will help Moore if Jones does the talking,” reported WHNT’s Chelsea Brentzel.
On the trail, Moore has said little about the tax bill that will be one of the next senator’s first challenges after Tuesday’s election. Asked about taxes, Moore has generally said he favors a national consumption “Fair Tax,” which bears little resemblance to the bill working through Congress. At last week’s rally in Fairhope, Moore made a glancing reference to how tax cuts had not yet passed, in a rundown of congressional problems he blamed on the party’s Capitol Hill leadership.
At the same time, the Moore campaign’s approach has not allowed the sort of rapid response that often matters in an election’s final week. The clearest example came on Dec. 8, when Beverly Young Nelson, a woman who claimed that Moore had made improper sexual advances on her when she was a teenager and he was 32 years old, admitted that she had added a date below Moore’s signature in her high school yearbook.
Nelson, who had told her story through attorney Gloria Allred, was one of nine women to make accusations against Moore. The Moore campaign had spent weeks demanding that Allred release the yearbook for independent inspection. Given the break, the campaign took very little advantage. A Friday afternoon news conference on the Nelson news lasted just seven minutes, with Moore campaign officials taking no questions.
“What they said then was either a lie, or what they said today was a lie,” Moore attorney Phillip Jauregui said. “And the voters are going to have to decide, were they lying then or are they lying now, or do the voters think they’ve been telling the truth all along?”
The Moore campaign also made no advertisements about the story, staying on the air with ads in which Moore attacked “Washington insiders” for wanting to deny conservatives their voice. By contrast, on Sunday, the Jones campaign cut an ad with Alabama’s GOP senator Richard C. Shelby’s denunciation of Moore within hours of him making it on CNN.
By Sunday, media discussion of Allred’s devastating gaffe was largely over. On that day, Moore appeared in a 30-minute TV interview — his first filmed interview of any kind in weeks. But it was filmed days earlier, and there was no discussion of the Allred gaffe.