“I couldn’t vote Roy Moore,” Sen. Richard Shelby said Sunday on CNN. “I didn’t vote for Roy Moore, but I wrote in a distinguished Republican name.”
Saying that “Alabama deserves better,” the Republican senior senator explained he could not support the GOP candidate given the allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Moore has been accused of preying on teenage girls, including one woman who said Moore groped her when she was 14 and he was in his 30s.
Shelby’s public denouncement comes just two days before Alabamans will elect their next US senator in the special election December 12, and it could have major ripple effects in the already tight race between Moore and Democratic candidate Doug Jones.
“We would like to retain that seat in the US Senate, but I tell you what, there’s a time and we call it a tipping point, and I think so many accusations, so many cuts, so many drip, drip, drip, when it got to the 14-year-old’s story, that was enough for me. I said, ‘I can’t vote for Roy Moore.’”
Republican Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby: “I want to reiterate again: I didn’t vote for Roy Moore, I wouldn’t vote for Roy Moore, I think the Republican Party can do better.” https://t.co/S0lqDy842a— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) December 10, 2017
His rejection of Moore is no small thing. Shelby is an influential figure in the state, and his decision to stage a protest vote and write in another Republican politician could convince other Alabama Republicans who are dissatisfied with Moore to do the same.
If enough Republicans follow his example, it could give Jones a real boost. A write-in candidate could bring down Moore’s support — if not quite splitting the vote, then at least siphoning off enough voters to push Jones over the edge.
Shelby is likely well aware of this risk but took a stand anyway — breaking decisively with his party’s leader, President Donald Trump, who recorded a robocall for the Moore campaign. Shelby said he understood Trump’s concern about chipping away at the Senate majority, but ultimately he made a different choice based on the trickle of allegations.
“I’d rather see another Republican in there, and I’m going to stay with that story,” Shelby said. “I'm not going to vote for the Democrat; I didn’t vote for the Democrat or advocate for the Democrat. But I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore.”
Right now, the polls in Alabama are all over the place. A Fox News poll released Monday had Jones up by 10 points, but other polls in recent days have had Moore edging out Jones. The discrepancies make sense given the chaotic and unusual nature of this race, which includes Moore’s history of controversy, the sexual misconduct allegations against him, and the country’s deep political polarization. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop writes, “the Alabama race is even more of a muddle. Even in the most normal of times, special elections are extremely challenging to poll.”
Shelby joins a small chorus of Republicans who have outright rejected Moore. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), writing “country over party,” posted a photo on Twitter of his $100 donation to Jones. Former GOP candidate Mitt Romney tweeted that having Moore in the US Senate would be “a stain on the GOP and the nation.” On Monday, one Nebraska Republican National Committee official resigned her position in protest of the committee’s support of Moore.
Republican senators urged Moore to step aside after the allegations emerged, but after the candidate refused and their other proposed solutions — including somehow postponing the election — fizzled out, leaders such as Sen. Mitch McConnell said they’d leave the decision up to the voters.
Shelby stated that a possible Senate ethics investigation into Moore should he win is “already being contemplated.” But many doubt whether the results of such an investigation could lead to Moore being removed from the Senate, in part because the allegations against Moore are related to decades-old incidents, and in part because the Senate has rarely kicked out its own members.
The Senate has only expelled 15 senators in its history — 14 of whom were kicked out for supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War. The Senate has not expelled one of its members since then, though other lawmakers who faced that prospect (not just for sexual misconduct) have chosen to resign rather than make their colleagues fire them. But Moore has remained defiant in the wake of the allegations, and if he wins the vote in Alabama, he isn’t likely to go quietly.