Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Opinion: Wild Alabama Senate race offers one last twist before the end

Here is your weird, no-one-knows-which-end-is-up news of the day (so far), in two headlines:

1.  Roy Moore takes biggest lead in weeks over Doug Jones in new Senate poll

2.  Fox News Poll: Enthused Democrats give Jones lead over Moore in Alabama

That's right. This morning, we got one poll that shows Moore -- the Republican who has been credibly accused of kissing, groping and dating girls as young as 14, decades ago when he was in his 30s -- has a 9-point lead in his quest to become Alabama's next U.S. senator. And we also got one showing Jones, his Democratic opponent, is winning by 10 points.

Welcome to Bizarro World.

The election is Tuesday, so we don't have long to wait to find out who will actually win this race. But it is a sign of just how crazy the race has become that we could get two apparent outlier polls (the Real Clear Politics average with these polls included is Moore plus-2.5 points, down from plus-3.7 points on Sunday) in opposite directions, with just one day left to go.

To be fair to the pollsters at Fox News and Emerson, I should point out that Survey Monkey polled Alabama and released this observation : "Data collected over the past week, with different models applied, show everything between an 8 eight percentage point margin favoring Jones and a 9 percentage point margin favoring Moore."

So ... yeah.

Despite all the talk about skewed polls (and unskewing polls) and the like in recent years, we typically haven't seen polling like this, where the possible outcomes are this wide open. But then, we haven't seen many elections with such bizarre dynamics, either.

It seems to come down to this. We have heard (despicable, in my view) rationalizations of Moore's behavior. We have heard (unpersuasive, in my view) attacks on the credibility of his accusers. And then we have heard (more honest, in my view) arguments all of this should be overlooked because Moore is more likely to vote as a senator in a way that reflects what most Alabamians want.

That is a morally troubling conclusion to reach, and one that arguably in the long run harms the very causes voters would be trying to protect by electing Moore. It does conservatism, and especially social conservatism, no good to be associated with someone who acted as Moore is credibly accused of acting -- not to mention the harm to the rule of law and the Constitution that comes from someone who behaved as Moore did (twice!) while in office as chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court.

But it also reflects the polarized nature of our politics, and not just on one side.

One interesting, emerging aspect of Democratic campaigns in the deep-red South is candidates' willingness to be unapologetically liberal. Jones appears to be from this mold. He doesn't seem to be like, say, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat with whom Republican senators might be able to do business from time to time. Instead, he's the kind of Alabama Democrat with whom liberal Democrats from the Northeast or West Coast can feel good associating, just not the kind of Alabama Democrat who stands a strong chance of winning -- absent a scandal like the one Moore faces, and maybe even with the benefit of such a scandal.

Thus are Democrats in Alabama possibly missing out on a winnable Senate seat as Republicans did in 2010 in states like Delaware and Nevada. But not really in the same way, because in those cases GOP voters defeated candidates in primaries who would've been more competitive in general elections. Those more-competitive minority-party candidates aren't nearly as numerous (in either party) as they were in 2010. Voters are just left with a more extreme choice from each party.

A candidate facing allegations like the ones Moore faces should be trailing by nearly double-digits, as the one poll out today shows. And yet, the determination by Democrats there (like Republicans in other states) to swim ideologically upstream is what means Moore may still be winning comfortably, as the other new poll shows. Who knows which one will prove to be more correct. But something tells me we haven't seen the last of electoral scenarios that once would have been inexplicable.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.