BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — President Trump has jumped into a contentious Senate race here in recent days, supporting embattled Republican Roy Moore in an election that neared the finish line Sunday under the glare of a national spotlight.
Trump’s 11th-hour imprint was splashed across the front pages of the state’s biggest newspapers over the weekend, as he championed Moore at a rally across the state border with Florida, recorded a phone call urging voters to vote Republican and branded Moore’s Democratic opponent a “Pelosi/Schumer Liberal Democrat” to his more than 44 million followers on Twitter.
But even as Trump has remained popular among Republican voters in this staunchly conservative state — and a troubling figure to many Democrats — it was unclear as the campaigns honed their closing arguments over the weekend how much impact the president would have in a race that has become all about Moore.
Moore has been a polarizing figure for years. His reputation for controversy grew last month after The Washington Post published the accounts of four women who said Moore made advances toward them when they were teens and he was in his 30s. One of the accusers said she was 14 at the time.
Several voters said in brief interviews on Sunday that Trump was not a leading factor in their decision. Democrats said their vote reflected their protest of Moore’s positions and controversies, while Republicans said they admire Moore for weathering accusations they think are false, for his conservatism and for refusing to give into the Republican establishment.
In Blount County, where Trump won nearly 90 percent of the vote last year, several Republicans running errands and having lunch said that they had decided to vote for Moore long before Trump told them to do so — and despite the published reports.
“I think the voters have basically made their minds up because they see through this garbage,” said David Clevenger, 61, a Moore supporter who also voted for Trump last year, and who said he does not believe the women who have accused Moore. Asked what impact Trump’s endorsement will make at this point, he shook his head and said: “None.”
His wife of more than 40 years, Teresa Clevenger, agreed and added: “We believe in thinking for ourselves.”
More than 35 miles southwest in Democrat-heavy Birmingham, Chris and Debbie Soniat, a married couple who have been volunteering for candidate Doug Jones, said in an interview that their vote is more about stopping Moore than it is about stopping Trump.
“In a way, Roy Moore is just his own, weird — I mean, I think he would institute sort of his own version of sharia law if he had the chance, you know?” said Chris Soniat, 68, a self-identified independent. “Banning homosexuality. Banning Muslims from participating.”
“To me, he represents the worst of the values of the Old South,” said Debbie Soniat, speaking of Moore.
The 65-year-old nurse, a Democrat, said the outcome of the 2016 election has spurred her to be more politically active. She traveled to Washington for the Women’s March with her daughter and is trying to stay active in politics.
She said she is worried that Trump’s late push is helping Moore.
“I’m afraid it is,” she said.
Yet Trump’s support has been qualified. While the president has made a big push for Moore, he has done so from afar — avoiding joint photo ops or other visuals that could haunt Trump if Moore loses. Trump appears to be setting himself up to claim credit if Moore wins while allowing himself to claim some distance if Moore loses.
With just two days left until Tuesday’s election, Jones and Moore took sharply different approaches. Moore stayed off the campaign trail while Jones barnstormed the state with an entourage of high-profile African American surrogates.
In Birmingham, Jones addressed supporters alongside Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a potential 2020 presidential candidate. They did not mention Trump in their pitch inside a packed campaign office, where the smell of pizza wafted through the air and organizers geared up for a busy afternoon of phone calls and canvassing.
Instead, they sought to hit aspirational notes about Alabama putting its best foot forward.
“Don’t let anyone tell you this is an election of choices to what Alabama wants to be. It is not that. We know who we are, Alabama,” Jones said. “This is an election to tell the world who we are.”
Booker called the race one of “the most consequential elections” of his lifetime and took an implicit dig at Moore.
“Please, I’m from Jersey,” Booker said. “We definitely don’t want some people just singling out a few folks on the ‘Jersey Shore’ TV show and thinking that’s my entire state. No, there is goodness and decency and mercy and love here.”
When a reporter asked Jones afterward about Trump’s recent criticism of him, Jones avoided engaging with the president — much as he has throughout the campaign.
“I don’t have a message to President Trump,” Jones said, before quickly pivoting to other topics. It’s been a strategy of necessity in a state that leans far to the right and where a Democratic upset is possible only by winning an ample share of crossover Republicans.
In a state where ideological conservatism and passionate opposition to abortion define the GOP, many of those Republican voters are expected to remain out of reach to Jones, who supports abortion rights.
Trump has not been shy about picking a fight. He has repeatedly branded Jones as an ally of polarizing national Democratic figures including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York.
If Jones wins on Tuesday, the GOP’s Senate majority would narrow to 51-49, making the already difficult task of shepherding a legislative agenda even tougher for Trump.
Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, said Trump recorded a call supporting Moore on Saturday. On Friday, Trump touted Moore at a rally in Pensacola, Fla. His appearance was widely covered by Alabama news outlets.
The Moore campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the recorded calls.
Moore has eagerly embraced Trump’s campaign on his behalf and has cast himself as a natural ally of the president who will go to Washington and immediately champion his agenda.
The former judge seemed keen on letting Trump lead the way for him down the stretch. Moore did not host any publicly announced events over the weekend, and his tweets have pertained almost exclusively to the president's support.
Senate GOP leaders have called on Moore to drop out of the race after a series of accusations that Moore, now 70, aggressivelypursued teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
Moore has denied the accusations and said in an interview with a local television station over the weekend that the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct were engaged in "ritual defamation" against him.
“I do not know them. I had no encounter with them. I have never molested anyone,” Moore said. “When I saw the pictures on the advertisements of my opponent, I did not recognize any of these people.”
Moore has spoken inconsistently about the allegations against him, telling Fox News host Sean Hannity in a radio interview last month that he may have dated young girls years ago — with parental permission — but that he did not recall dating any of the women who had accused him of making unwanted advances when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers. He said in that interview that he knew two of the women when they were teens, and described each as a “good girl.”
Moore said a victory for him would end the story.
“I’ve stood up for moral values, so they’re attacking me in that way,” he said. “When this race is over, on the 12th of December, it will be over.”
While reporting a story in Alabama about supporters of Moore’s Senate campaign, a Post reporter heard that Moore allegedly had sought relationships with teenage girls. Over the ensuing three weeks, two Post reporters contacted and interviewed four women. All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews, saying they thought it was important for people to know about their interactions with Moore. The women said they did not know one another.
Senate Republican leaders have been grappling with difficult questions about what to do if Moore is elected on Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has said that the Senate Ethics Committee — a panel of three Republican and three Democratic senators — could swiftly begin investigating the accusations against Moore.
Trump’s involvement in the campaign seems to have followed the mood in the state as documented through polling and media reports.
In the Republican primary, Trump endorsed Moore’s rival, Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed by the governor to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump quickly endorsed and embraced Moore once he became the nominee — but then authorized the Republican National Committee to pull funding from the race when accusations emerged last month.
Trump refused to answer any questions about Moore, although the White House did not withdraw his endorsement. After Moore stayed in the race and polls tightened, Trump started attacking Jones — and then, after testing the waters, started once again directly telling voters to vote for Moore. He also directed the RNC to jump back in.
“A big contingent of very enthusiastic Roy Moore fans at the rally last night,” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “We can’t have a Pelosi/Schumer Liberal Democrat, Jones, in that important Alabama Senate seat. Need your vote to Make America Great Again! Jones will always vote against what we must do for our Country.”
David Weigel in Washington contributed to this report. Johnson reported from Oneonta, Ala., and Sullivan reported from Birmingham.