After all that has happened, the Alabama Senate race appears to be reverting to a fundamental political truth: A state that is one of the most Republican in the nation is likely to vote Republican.
Of course, there is still the possibility of some new and devastating sexual misconduct revelation about GOP candidate Roy Moore. But there’s an increasing sense that the old and devastating sexual misconduct revelations are receding into the distant past of two weeks ago. Now, Moore is recovering in the polls and more Alabama voters seem comfortable with the idea of voting for him.
Moore was six points ahead of Democratic opponent Doug Jones in the RealClearPolitics average of polls before the first allegations. By Nov. 21, Moore was eight-tenths of a point behind Jones.
Now, Moore is back in the lead, but by just 2.6 points.
It appears the improvement in Moore’s fortunes is being driven by a gradual change in the Alabama electorate’s view of the allegations against him. In a Morning Consult poll taken in mid-November, 43 percent said they found the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore to be credible, while 19 percent said not credible, and 37 percent said they did not know or had no opinion.
In a newer poll by the same company, taken in the last week of November, 41 percent said they found the allegations credible, 21 percent said not credible, and 41 percent said they did not know or had no opinion.
That’s not a huge change, but it’s a 6 percentage point increase in the group of people who say the allegations are not credible or who say they don’t know.
In the poll, the number of Republicans who said they don’t believe the Moore allegations stayed roughly the same. But there appears to have been a pretty significant shift from those who earlier said they believed the allegations to those who now say they don’t know.
Among Democrats, the number who said they did not believe the allegations ticked upward. The same occurred with independents.
Part of the change — perhaps a large part — seems to reflect the idea that many voters don’t view Moore’s accusers in the same way that many media figures do. A number of media reports portray overwhelming evidence against Moore. “He’s pitting his word against the word of nine women who accused him of varying degrees of sexual misconduct,” CNN reported recently. The message is that the sheer number of accusers means at least some must be telling the truth.
But it seems likely that some Alabama voters don’t see nine accusers. They see one.
That one accuser is Leigh Corfman, who says Moore sexually assaulted her in 1979, when she was 14 years old. Published in the Washington Post, Corfman’s was the first and most serious allegation against Moore, and it remains the most serious today. Corfman has seemed credible in media appearances, and Moore has not been able to refute her story. The Moore campaign realizes Corfman’s is the most compelling allegation against him.
But the Post account also included the stories of three other women who said Moore asked them out when they were 16, 17 and 18 years old, and whose cases against Moore did not involve any physical abuse or coercion.
Then there was Beverly Young Nelson, who said Moore assaulted her in 1977, when she was 16. Nelson made the mistake of retaining celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred when she made her allegations, and she also mishandled Moore’s contention that a signature in a yearbook she produced, ostensibly by Moore, might be a fake. Both moves reduced her credibility.
So that is five accusers right there. It is likely that voters pushed four of them to the side, leaving Corfman.
Then there was a woman who said Moore grabbed her behind in 1991, when she was 28. A woman who said Moore asked her out in 1982, when she was 17. A woman who said Moore asked her out repeatedly in 1977, when she was 18, and gave her an unwanted, “forceful” kiss. And finally, a woman who said Moore asked her out several times in 1977, when she was 22.
Asked her out several times when she was 22 years old? That’s not the most outrageous allegation in the news these days. Four more accusers, some with very thin stories.
That makes nine. The point is not that none of the accusers is telling the truth. Perhaps some, or all, are. What appears to have happened is that one very serious allegation was followed by a series of less serious, or less credible, accusations that in the end did not have the cumulative effect that Moore’s opponents perhaps hoped.
The bottom line is, instead of Roy Moore versus nine accusers, in many voters’ minds, the story is Roy Moore versus one accuser, Leigh Corfman. And that is where the mental calculations begin.
Corfman’s allegation is serious; she was, after all, 14 years old. But it’s not airtight. And it was in 1979 — 38 years ago. Memories fade, or change. And even if it is all true, has Moore changed in the nearly four decades since? Is there a statute of political limitations? Thoughts like that can change minds.
Finally, many conservative voters see Jones as a doctrinaire liberal whose pro-choice views on abortion would likely be enough to ensure defeat in an Alabama race. And so Alabama Republicans are more and more assessing the situation as Alabama Republicans. It would be no surprise if they vote that way on Dec. 12.