Last week was not a happy one for evangelicals in Alabama.
It was bad enough that the Washington Post exposed their standard-bearer, GOP senatorial candidate Roy Moore, as someone who used to prey on teenaged girls. Moore’s Alabaman defenders made it worse by turning their piece of God’s country into a national laughingstock.
State Auditor Jim Ziegler was hooted coast to coast for justifying Moore’s proclivity by way of the Holy Family: “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.” Saturday Night Live responded with a little colloquy between Moore (Mikey Day) and Vice President Mike Pence (Beck Bennett).
“Voters in Alabama will never elect someone who’s had relations with a minor,” says Pence. “You sure about that?” asks Moore. “No,” Pence quickly replies. “Alabama is quite a place.”
Yankee journalists, meanwhile, were hard-pressed to find a Moore supporter from Mobile to Muscle Shoals willing to abandon the state’s twice-dumped chief justice. “Why Evangelicals Can’t Quit Roy Moore,” sneered the headline in the New Republic.
But it turns out a fair number of them can. And in less than a week, they’ve turned what looked like a walk-over for Moore into a close contest between him and Democrat Doug Jones.
Two pollsters tell the story.
At the end of September, Opinion Savvy showed evangelicals backing Moore over Jones by 40 points, 68 percent to to 28 percent. In its latest poll, taken in the wake of the Post story, the margin has been cut nearly in half, with 58 percent supporting Moore and 37 percent supporting Jones.
Similarly, the 37-point lead that Moore enjoyed among evangelicals in a late September JMC Analytics poll is now down to 23 points. Meanwhile, Alabama’s non-evangelicals are backing Jones by wide margins — 31 points according to Opinion Savvy and 51 points according to JMC Analytics.
But while folks may no longer joke that Alabama has more Baptists than people, evangelicals make up well over half the electorate. So you need a significantly larger proportion of non-evangelicals to counterbalance them.
Overall, Opinion Savvy shows the race dead even. JMC Analytics has Jones up by four points.
When he was a federal prosecutor, Doug Jones brought to justice the last two Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed one 11-year-old and three 14-year-old girls. When he was a state prosecutor, Roy Moore allegedly molested a 14-year-old girl.
To me, this doesn’t seem like that hard a call.
Update: A new accuser comes forward with a highly persuasive story and a high school yearbook to provide supporting evidence. I say Moore will withdraw from the race but before he does there will probably be a new round of polls. If his evangelical base doesn’t desert him, I take back the headline.