MADISON, Ala. — The Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Alabama hopes to use Republicans' words against their own candidate.
The latest ad by Doug Jones plays back criticism of Republican nominee Roy Moore that Ivanka Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) gave in the aftermath of allegations that Moore made unwanted advances on teenage girls.
The ad targets Republicans and Republican-leaning voters, who make up a majority of the state. The goal is to give them permission to vote for a Democrat in the Dec. 12 special election.
"Most Alabamians haven't voted for a Democrat for U.S. Senate in a generation," said Zac McCrary, an Alabama-based pollster for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "You are butting up against a generation of Republican muscle memory,"
Jones has mostly refrained from talking in detail on the campaign about the allegations by women that Moore made unwanted advances when they were teenagers and Moore was in his 30s, including one who said he touched her sexually when she was 14.
But on television and radio, where Jones has outspent Moore by a margin of about 8 to 1, Jones has shifted his strategy since the allegations surfaced. An ad in mid-November featured a number of regular Republican voters speaking directly to the camera about their decision to back Jones.
"I'm a Republican, but Roy Moore — no way," one man says in the spot.
In the new ad, President Trump's daughter is quoted saying of the Moore allegations: "There's a special place in hell for people who prey on children." Sessions is quoted from a congressional hearing where he was asked about the Moore story: "I have no reason to doubt these young women." Shelby, who has been critical of Moore, is quoted on his plan to write in another name on the ballot.
The strategy echoes the successful 2015 Louisiana gubernatorial campaign of John Bel Edwards, who defeated former Republican Sen. David Vitter after his own sex scandal. Edwards ran television ads that featured endorsements from key Republicans. "I am a Republican," said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne in one Edwards ad. "But I also am someone who believes in voting for the person, and not the party."
The last Democrat to win statewide in Alabama was Shelby in 1992 — he switched parties to become a Republican two years later.
With three weeks until the special Senate election, there's little evidence that Moore will follow Republicans' advice and quit. His persistence has left Republicans, who once hoped to drive him out and run a more electable write-in candidate, out on a limb.
The Jones campaign has identified moderate, suburban Republican voters as a key persuasion target. The campaign also hopes for high African American turnout and for more conservative Republicans, who will not vote for Jones because of his views on abortion and other issues, to stay home.
Fox News polling found significant movement among registered voters in key demographics after the allegations against Moore were reported in The Post. The percentage of women in the state who had a favorable view of Moore dropped 11 points between mid-October and mid-November, from 47 percent to 36 percent, compared to a two point drop for men.
In the November poll, 38 percent of likely voters said they believed the allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore were true, compared to 37 percent who did not. Moderates were more than twice as likely as conservatives to believe the allegations, and those under the age of 45 were more likely than older Alabamians to find the claims credible.
Only 16 percent of white evangelicals said they believed the claims against Moore.
Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.