Alabamians head to the polls Tuesday to vote for their next U.S. senator. For some, it will be the third time this year they’ve cast a ballot to determine who will assume the seat recently occupied by current Attorney General Jeff Sessions for two decades.
The circuitous path to get to this point has been nothing short of extraordinary.
Yes, the race is between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, but this contest is much bigger than the two men vying for the open seat. The campaign encapsulates many of the topics the political world — and to some extent American culture — has been coming to grips with for some time.
The Alabama senate race has been shrouded in scandal, in which a powerful man is accused of sexual misconduct and assault, though in this case it involves girls who were as young as 14 when the alleged perpetrator was in his 30s. Moore denies the allegations.
Beyond that, the contest has also become a flashpoint for Republicans about the future of the party and how much influence President Trump wields over voters, given his recent full-throated endorsement of Moore.
Meanwhile, Democrats hope they can build on other successes from contests in Virginia and New Jersey this year and notch a victory in a traditionally deep red state. All this, of course, overshadows what is immediately at stake — a victory for the Republicans maintains their slim margin of power as is in the Senate. A Democratic win means it would shift to a razor-thin 51-49 margin.
Below is a timeline of how we got to this point:
Feb. 8: Jeff Sessions confirmed as attorney general
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was confirmed as the 84th attorney general of the United States. He passed by a near-party-line vote 52 to 47 with only one Democrat voting yes. His confirmation process exposed deep divisions between the Democrats and Republicans in the opening weeks of the Trump administration, including the GOP moving to silence Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor during debate of his nomination.
Feb. 9: Luther Strange appointed to the Senate
Alabama’s then-governor Robert Bentley taps the state’s attorney general, Luther Strange, to fill Sessions’ Senate seat until a special election can be held. This move is not without controversy. Bentley had been caught in web of scandals, including allegations he misused his office to hide an affair with a staffer. Strange was conducting an impeachment investigation of Bentley. Some saw this move as corrupt, because Bentley could not only pick a new senator, but also select a new state attorney general to head the investigation. Despite all this, Strange was sworn in as the interim U.S. senator from Alabama.
April 10: Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley resigns
In a remarkable agreement, the embattled governor struck a deal with the state attorney general’s office to resign, plead guilty to a pair of misdemeanors and vow to never hold public office again. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey is sworn in to replace Bentley. Luther Strange’s association with Bentley hung like a cloud over his primary campaign.
April 26: Republican Roy Moore announces his candidacy
Suspended Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore announces he is going to run for the U.S. Senate. He is an icon among Christian conservatives for his refusal to remove a statue of the 10 Commandments at the Alabama Judicial Building and for ordering state judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
May 10: Democrat Doug Jones kicks off Senate bid
Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, announces he’s running for Alabama’s open senate seat. He’s best known for his successful prosecution of the two Klansman decades after their involvement in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four black girls.
Aug. 8: Trump backs Luther Strange
Trump tweets support of incumbent Sen. Strange, who had earlier received backing from Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. At the time, Trump said of the interim senator via tweet that he had “done a great job” and “has my complete and total endorsement!”
Aug. 15: Alabama special election primary
Jones defeats six other challengers to win the Democratic nomination outright. On the Republican side, of the nine candidates running, no one got above 50 percent of the vote. The top two vote-getters, Strange and Moore advance to a Republican Primary runoff.
Aug. 28: Bannon breaks with Trump, backs Moore
Recently departed White House chief strategist Steve Bannon breaks with Trump, and endorses Moore in the Republican runoff. The ex-Trump aide, who rejoined conservative website Breitbart News, was hoping to energize evangelicals setting up a showdown in the runoff between establishment GOP forces and those in the conservative grassroots.
Sept. 26: Moore soundly defeats Strange in primary runoff
In a resounding win for the anti-establishment wing of the Republican Party, Moore’s easy victory over Strange proved it could pull off a victory even when party leaders Trump and McConnell weren’t in their corner. As NPR’s Jessica Taylor reported at the time, McConnell’s allied superPAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, poured more than $9 million into the race to back Strange. Not long after the results were in, Trump sent a congratulatory tweet to Moore, and McConnell said Republicans look forward to “Judge Moore’s help” enacting the conservative agenda when he arrives to Washington, he said in a statement.
Sept. 27: Trump deletes tweets supporting Luther Strange
A day after his preferred candidate lost in a runoff, Trump began deleting previous tweets where he had supported defeated candidate Strange.
Nov. 8: Gov. Ivey says she will vote for Moore, but won’t endorse
Gov. Kay Ivey said she will vote for Republican nominee Roy Moore, but, as a practice, she reportedly does not publicly back candidates.
Nov. 9: Moore accused of sexual misconduct
Four women come forward in a bombshell Washington Post article with details about how Moore, decades ago, pursued romantic relationships with them when they were teenagers, and he was in his 30s. One of them, Leigh Corfman, says she was 14, and Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her. Moore denies all allegations.
Nov. 10: Moore interviewed by Sean Hannity
Following the allegations detailed in the Washington Post, Moore goes on Sean Hannity’s nationally syndicated radio program. He asked Moore: “Would it be unusual for you, as a 32-year-old guy to have dated a woman as young as 17. That would be, what, a 15-year difference or a girl 18. Do you remember dating girls that young at that time?”
Moore responded: “Not generally, no. If I did, I’m not going to dispute anything, but I don’t remember anything like that.”
Many Republicans, like 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, tweeted for Moore to step aside. “Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections.” He said he believed Corfman and called Moore “unfit for office.”
Nov. 12: First poll shows Jones with slight lead
In the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore, his Democratic opponent Jones jumps to a 4-point lead 46 to 42 percent. It’s a month out from the election and within the poll’s margin of error.
Nov. 13: Gloria Allred, a fifth accuser and a yearbook signature
Beverly Young Nelson became the fifth woman to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct. She said he groped and tried to force himself on her while in his car in the late 1970s. At the time, Nelson said, she was 16 and Moore was in his 30s. She made the allegations alongside celebrity attorney Gloria Allred during a press conference, where she held up a page in her high-school yearbook, which she claims Moore signed:
“To a sweeter, more beautiful girl I could not say Merry Christmas. Christmas 1977. Love, Roy More, D.A. 12-22-77 Olde Hickory House.”
Supporters of Moore quickly point to what they see as differences in handwriting in the yearbook and call for the inscription to be independently examined.
Nov. 13: Calls for Moore’s expulsion from Senate, should he win
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who also serves as chair of the National Republican Senate Committee said if Moore should win, the Senate should “vote to expel him.”
Nov. 14: RNC pulls funding from Moore
The Republican National Committee filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to sever fundraising ties with Moore. The National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled out of the same agreement last week. Senate Leader McConnell also floats Sessions as a possible write-in candidate.
Nov. 15: More women come forward, bringing total to eight
Three more women come forward, accusing Moore of misconduct. Two of the women in a separate Washington Post story say Moore, in his 30s, approached them while they worked at Sears as teenagers. Another woman says Moore groped her in his law offices. She was of age, but says the attention was unwanted. This brings the total number of accusers to eight. Moore again denies all wrongdoing.
Nov. 17: Ivey still backs Moore
Ivey was asked at the state’s traditional Thanksgiving turkey-pardoning event about Moore and if she still planned to vote for him. According to AL.com, the governor cited holding the GOP majority in the Senate as a top priority.
“I believe in the Republican Party, what we stand for, and most important, we need to have a Republican in the United States Senate to vote on things like the Supreme Court justices, other appointments the Senate has to confirm and make major decisions,” she said. “So that’s what I plan to do, vote for Republican nominee Roy Moore.”
Nov. 21: Trump on Moore’s allegations: “He totally denies it”
As he was heading off to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the Thanksgiving holiday, Trump briefly stopped to answer questions about Moore. He pointed to the fact that the allegations of sexual misconduct happened 40 years ago and said Moore’s opponent Jones was “terrible” on crime, the military and the border.
“I can tell you one thing for sure,” the president added, “we don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat.”
Nov. 27: Another contender jumps in the race as a write-in
A 60-year old retired marine, Lee Busby, announces he is launching a long-shot write-in candidacy in the Alabama Senate race as an independent. In an interview with Time, Busby said, should he win, he’d likely vote with Republicans, but stopped short of saying he’d caucus with them.
Dec. 4: Trump endorses Moore, RNC reinstates financial support
Erasing any lingering doubt on where he stands, Trump issues a full-throated endorsement of Moore tweeting:
“LAST thing the Make America Great Again Agenda needs is a liberal Democrat in the Senate we have so little margin for victory already. The Pelsosi/Schumer Puppet Jones would be a vote against us 100% of the time. He’s bad on Crime, Life, Border, Vets, Guns & Military. VOTE ROY MOORE”
According to the White House, the President called Moore to discuss his race. The RNC reverses course and re-engages funding to the embattled candidate.
Moore confirmed and touted Trump’s endorsement via Twitter, and closed with the hashtag MAGA, Make America Great Again, to show solidarity with the president:
Dec. 8: Trump stumps for Moore (in Florida); return of the yearbook signature
In the final days of the campaign, Beverly Young Nelson, the accuser who said Moore signed her high-school yearbook 40 years ago, held another press conference with her lawyer, Gloria Allred. Nelson clarified her earlier account, saying she added a notation to the yearbook inscription, but maintained Moore’s signature and message were authentic. At a campaign rally for Moore (Moore was not in attendance) that evening, in Pensacola, Fla., about 20 miles from the Alabama state line, Trump seized on these developments, telling the crowd Republicans can’t afford to lose this Senate seat.
Dec. 9: Jones courts black voters
As polls indicate a tightening race, Jones brings in high-profile black surrogates to help create enthusiasm among Alabama’s African-American voters. Two of the biggest names in the party, former Massachusetts Gov. Duval Patrick and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, make campaign appearances. At a stop in Selma, according to Politico, Booker told the crowd, “Bad people get elected when good people don’t vote.”
Dec. 10: Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby: “I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore”
In an appearance on CNN, Alabama’s Republican senior Sen. Richard Shelby says he wants to see a Republican win the open seat, but he doesn’t want it to be Moore. Shelby said he already cast his ballot and chose a write-in candidate.
Dec. 11: Presidential robocalls
Trump records a call urging Alabama voters to support Moore and said a Democratic win would be a blow to his agenda. Former President Barack Obama cuts a competing call, saying, “Doug Jones is a fighter for equality, for progress.”
Dec. 12: Election Day