If you thought US politics would return to normality soon, tonight’s special election in Alabama should end that delusion. A race that would in normal times be entirely predictable and barely noted beyond the keenest followers has become a huge international story – for what it represents, the implications and because it remains on a knife edge. The polls are all over the place and the betting trends remain unsettled. Rarely have we seen a less conventional or predictable election.
The sole reason for any doubt over which party would win this Senate seat is the Republican candidate. Roy Moore – an ultra-conservative judge famous for holding extreme positions against homosexuality and Islam; who has appeared on conspiracy theory radio and said 9/11 was God’s punishment for American immorality – was hugely controversial from the moment he entered the primary.
In running against and defeating GOP establishment pick Luther Strange, Moore became a symbol of former Trump guru Steve Bannon’s hostile takeover of the party. The man who would reshape the party in his and Donald Trump’s image has campaigned for Moore from the outset and stayed loyal.
None of those positions or associations would have stopped him winning the seat comfortably. Moore’s problems really started when the Washington Post alleged he had molested a 14 year-old girl in 1979. Several other women duly came forward and their accusations have been deemed credible by a variety of commentators. In response, the Republican National Committee withdrew financial support and even Trump waited a long while before endorsing.
Typically for these hypartisan times, the accusations have been rubbished as ‘fake news’ and the mainstream media (apart from ultra-conservative Fox) is trusted ever less by the Republican base. Moore has denied everything and, once any hope of him standing down had gone, the party leadership came on board. Some Republicans are nevertheless determined to take a moral stand – most notably Alabama’s Senior Senator Richard Shelby – who says the ‘state deserves better’.
For the Democrats to win any seat in this reddest of red states seems unimaginable yet the very least a series of contradictory polls suggest is that Democrat challenger Doug Jones has a chance. An incredible Fox News poll yesterday showed Jones an incredible 10% up but the overwhelming majority have Moore winning by single-digits – the latest RCP average is Moore +2.2%. Note, however, that FiveThirtyEight say the only ‘gold standard’ poll put Jones 3% up.
Betfair markets are fast losing faith in Moore
Betting markets are also edging away from the favourite. From previously trading down to 1.1 (91%), the Republican is now rated around 66% likely to win by Betfair traders at odds of 1.5, compared to 3.0 (33%) about Jones. Those odds have continued to fall fast over the last few hours in the wake of to that Fox poll.