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Alabama Senate race churns into final hours, still too close to predict

With the help of two high-profile surrogates, Roy Moore and Doug Jones scrambled Monday to stake their final claims in Alabama’s cliffhanger of a U.S. Senate race.

Moore, who largely disappeared from public view after being accused of sexual misconduct, resurfaced for an election eve rally with Stephen K. Bannon, a political advisor to President Trump, in the rural southeast corner of the state.

Trump weighed in with a recorded message pitching the former state Supreme Court chief.

In Midland City, Moore met cheering supporters. “We’re Alabama. We’re Republican. And we’re not going to stand by and let other people from out of state and money from California control this election,” he told them.

Jones stumped in Birmingham and Montgomery, targeting core Democrats but also inviting Republicans to follow the lead of the state’s senior GOP senator, Richard C. Shelby, who snubbed Moore by writing in another candidate.

“The people of the state, they have elected Richard Shelby for four decades,” Jones said at a breakfast stop in Birmingham. “They’re going to listen to Richard Shelby.”

The race shouldn’t be close. Alabama is one of the most conservative states in the country and a boneyard for Democratic ambitions.

Three things to watch in Alabama’s Senate election »

In half a dozen U.S. Senate races over the last two decades, no Democrat cracked even 40%. Atty. Gen Jeff Sessions — whose former seat is being filled in Tuesday’s special election — faced token opposition in 2014 and won reelection with 97% of the vote.

But Moore’s controversial past — he was twice booted from the state Supreme Court for ignoring federal law — and allegations he molested two teenage girls and romantically pursued several others while in his 30s have turned the contest into a coin flip.

Moore, 70, has adamantly denied the allegations and did so again Monday night.

“They got on national television arguing their case after waiting 40 years,” he said, “during which I served in three public offices in the state, I ran five state campaigns, three county campaigns … and never once was this mentioned.”

Along with Bannon, who called a vote for Moore a vote for Trump, the rally featured an appearance by a former Army captain who served with Moore in Vietnam.

Acting as character witness, Bill Staehle said the two once unwittingly were taken to a brothel, where Moore turned on his heels and left. “That was Roy,” the New Jersey attorney said. “Honorable, disciplined, morally straight and highly principled.”

He likened the sexual misconduct charges to “a Viet Cong ambush”

“It’s all garbage,” Staehle said.

Moore has a history of making odd and sometimes unsettling remarks, and that has also contributed to his political difficulties.

On Monday night, it was his wife’s turn. Introducing her husband, Kayla Moore sought to dispel what she called “fake news” suggestions her husband was prejudiced against Jews and other minorities. “One of our attorneys is a Jew,” she said, a line that quickly drew widespread derision.

Apart from the personal drama, the political stakes Tuesday are high.

A Jones victory would cut the Republican’s tenuous Senate majority to 51 to 49 and give Democrats a significant boost in their long-shot effort to take control in 2018.

After hesitating, Trump strongly endorsed Moore, appearing at a rally just across the border in Pensacola, Fla., and taping a robocall lashing his political fate to a victory on Tuesday.

“I am stopping illegal immigration and crime. We’re building a stronger military and protecting the 2nd Amendment and our pro-life values,” Trump said in the recorded message. “But if Alabama elects liberal Democrat Doug Jones, all of our progress will be stopped cold.”

Former President Obama and his former vice president, Joe Biden, weighed in with their own recorded calls on the Democrat’s behalf.

“This one’s serious. You can’t sit it out,” Obama said in the call. “Doug Jones is a fighter for equality, for progress. Doug will be our champion for justice. So get out and vote, Alabama.”

Obama could be especially helpful in motivating African Americans to vote for Jones — and against Moore, who has questioned whether the nation’s first black president was born in the United States.

But the endorsement is not necessarily an unalloyed benefit. Jones, 63, a former federal prosecutor and Alabama native, has pointedly kept his distance from national Democrats, who are generally held in low regard in this Deep South state.

“The only robocall I know about for sure is the one from my wife,” Jones said.

He capped his day with a Birmingham get-out-the-vote rally featuring former NBA star and Alabama basketball legend Charles Barkley.

“At some point,” Barkley said, “we got to stop looking like idiots to the nation.”

mark.barabak@latimes.com

@markzbarabak

ALSO

Polls in Alabama are all over. Why’s it so hard to know who’s ahead?

Black voters are key to Democratic hopes in Alabama. Will they turn out?

In Alabama, Republicans fear they may lose even if Roy Moore wins


UPDATES:

Dec. 12, 6:10 am.: This article was updated with a quote from Kayla Moore.

This article was originally published Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m.

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