OZARK, Alabama – Now that the fat lady is finally warming up to sing the finale in what has been the never-ending saga of Alabama’s U.S. Senate special election cycle, there are a few things spectators can watch for before the vote tallies are reported.
These are some things that political spectators can watch for as news of the day unfolds:
1) Urban versus rural turnout: Much like the Republican primary runoff between Luther Strange and Moore, this election should have a similar dynamic.
In the Strange-Moore match-up, Moore showed strength in the rural precincts around the state, while Strange had his best results in urban and suburban counties.
If throughout the day turnout is on the upswing in the rural precincts, then that is a good sign for Moore. However, if the same is true in urban and suburban precincts (those in Jefferson, Shelby, Montgomery, Mobile, Baldwin and Madison Counties), then that could be a positive sign for Jones.
There are some exceptions, which include Alabama’s mostly rural Democrat-heavy predominantly African-American Black Belt region. Good turnout in those counties may also mean the same in Alabama’s inner cities, an integral part of Jones’ path to an upset victory.
However, if places like Cullman, Rainbow City, Andalusia and Muscle Shoals show a similar uptick in their polling locations vote counts, that is a favorable sign for Moore.
2) Birmingham: Jones spent much of his time in late stages of the campaign, including election eve, in the Magic City and its surrounding areas. That suggests Jones is looking to run up a big score Jefferson County, where he is courting two kinds of voters: inner-city African-Americans and affluent white voters that may have supported Strange in the GOP primary. The latter may have been entirely opposed to Moore’s candidacy from the beginning.
Jones is expected to do well in Birmingham neighborhoods like Ensley, Woodlawn, Avondale and North Birmingham and the western suburbs of Fairfield, Midfield and Bessemer. Those are the traditional Democratic Party strongholds in Jefferson County.
It will be important for Jones to bring in a sizable share of the votes in Birmingham’s Over-the-Mountain traditionally Republican-voting municipalities of Homewood, Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills and Hoover as well. Those are places Strange performed well and give Jones his opportunity to win crossover votes.
3) The curse of Madison County? Winning Huntsville would undoubtedly be welcomed by either Jones or Moore. However, in the two rounds of Republican voting, the winner of Madison County (Rep. Mo Brooks in the primary and Luther Strange in the runoff) did not advance to the next round.
This streak is due to Brooks being the hometown favorite in the Republican primary and President Donald Trump visiting Huntsville on Luther Strange’s behalf the Friday before the GOP runoff.
Huntsville is Alabama’s fourth-largest city by population, but it has not been the case that the road to winning an election goes through the Rocket City.
4) Mobile, Roy Moore’s unlikely secret weapon: In the Republican primary in August, Moore exceeded expectations by winning Mobile County, albeit by a small four-point margin. A crowded field and a more affluent GOP voter base seemed to favor some of the other candidates in that race, including Strange and State Sen. Trip Pittman, a Republican lawmaker from nearby Fairhope, AL.
Moore improved upon Mobile number in the September runoff, winning the county by 13 points over Strange.
Although Jones is winning the sign war along Mobile’s major thoroughfares in the Spring Hill, Midtown and downtown Mobile, on side streets away from Old Shell Road, Dauphin and Government Streets, the presence of Jones’ signage is much less obvious.
5) The Write-in Myth: Much has been made of the challenges from the write-in hopefuls of Lee Busby and Mac Watson. Some Moore supporters have been concerned that these wannabes will take votes away from Moore.
It’s more likely this could take votes away from Jones.
Moore has an established group of voters. Jones needs to create a coalition of voters that include traditional Democratic voters that would vote for any candidate with a “D” beside their name and disaffected Republican voters turned off by Moore.
However, if a third option is available to Republican voters, they could opt not to vote for Jones as the alternative to Moore, but the write-in candidate instead, and that will damage Jones’ chances.
Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor