In a campaign that has defied convention over and over, Roy Moore did something that perplexed political professionals, media and voters alike.
He had mostly disappeared from public view before he emerged on election eve in a barn-like building near Dothan, slightly more than 10 hours before the first voting precincts open.
The race to fill the seat left vacant when Jeff Sessions resigned to become U.S. attorney general had become a national obsession for cable news channels, talk radio and newspaper pundits.
But Moore had not had a public campaign appearance since Wednesday, Dec. 6. Hs campaign ignored or rebuffed repeated attempts (including several from BirminghamWatch) to announce his schedule or account for his whereabouts. His apparent attendance at Saturday’s traditional Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia has not been acknowledged by his campaign.
Moore was a West Point graduate, and his son Micah is currently a cadet.
Determining Moore’s whereabouts of late has involved piecing together bits of information from various news reports.
Vice News tracked down Moore’s longtime friend and his Cullman County campaign chairman, Tom Barnes, who is also an alumnus of the U.S. Military Academy. Barnes confirmed that Moore was at Lincoln Financial Field, where the Black Knights of the Hudson edged the Midshipmen 14-13 in the academies’ 118th meeting. But when Vice News reporters asked Moore campaign manager Rich Hobson to confirm, he refused repeatedly.
Moore appeared in a one-on-one interview with Bill Britt, editor of The Alabama Political Reporter online news site and host of the syndicated television show “The Voice of Alabama Politics,” also known as “The V”. Britt’s interview was taped in the Republican Party of Alabama headquarters office in Hoover, shown on Sunday via four stations across the state, and streamed online at alreporter.com. Britt told BirminghamWatch that the interview was taped Wednesday.
Moore was a no-show for Sunday morning worship services at his home church in the Etowah County community of Gallant. A report in The Atlantic magazine’s website said that a campaign official said Moore attended a Christmas party for supporters Sunday night.
Finally, at 8:50 p.m., six miles from Dothan in a building usually used for weddings, Roy Moore appeared in public Monday night. The rally featured several conservative stalwarts, including Steve Bannon, head of Breitbart.com and a former strategic adviser to President Donald Trump; Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas; and David Clarke, the former sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.
Bannon’s conservative-news website has been one of the most vocal pro-Moore outlets, as Bannon seeks to carry out Trump’s oft-stated goal to “drain the swamp” in Washington. Bannon noted the opposition to Moore coming from within the GOP establishment, including Sen. Richard Shelby, who has announced several times that he did not vote for Moore on his absentee ballot and instead wrote in another “distinguished Republican,” whom he would not name.
Even before the prolonged absence, Moore had tried to avoid facing the news media, escaping questions over allegations of sexual improprieties with teenage girls in the Gadsden area 40 years ago. Most of his campaign stops since The Washington Post broke the story on Nov. 9 have been at churches. At some of those events, Moore supporters have publicly skirmished verbally with reporters and camera crews.
Moore has given only two interviews since: Britt’s interview last week, and a similar interview on a cable-TV show hosted by former State Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, now a radio talk-show host. A pro-Trump group also set up an interview between Moore and Millie March, a 12-year-old girl who gained fame for a viral video in 2016 in which she endorsed Trump. Her brief time with Moore is also on YouTube, where it was posted Sunday.
So why has Moore been out of sight, with campaign operatives covering his tracks? The campaign itself is a lean operation, with a small circle of advisers who have remained tight-lipped since the Washington Post story. Their communications with the media have been almost entirely through press releases. The absence has led to mounds of speculation from political pundits. But with the Real Clear Politics average of major polls showing Moore with a 2.5 percent lead on Monday, Moore may simply be running out the clock. Another Monday poll, this one from Fox News, showed Jones with a 10-point lead.
Democratic candidate Doug Jones, the former U.S. attorney best known for prosecuting killers of four African-American girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, has used Moore’s public absence to his political advantage. Jones was anything but hidden over the three days before the election, attending numerous get-out-the-vote events across the state.
Among the celebrities appearing with Jones were Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, widely considered to be a potential candidate in the 2020 presidential election; former Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Massachusetts, another potential presidential candidate; and outspoken former National Basketball Association and Auburn University star Charles Barkley, a native of Leeds.
Jones made multiple comments about Moore’s unexplained absence.
And to cover the places rallies didn’t, both campaigns employed robocalls, including one from President Trump on Moore’s behalf. Former President Barack Obama recorded a call for Jones.
And if those efforts missed anyone, a scan of local newscasts on Alabama’s television stations showed streams of commercials for both campaigns. A single commercial break Tuesday night on a Birmingham newscast featured six different 30-second commercials from the campaigns and PACs, three for each side. Cable news channels and talk radio stations (both news- and sports-oriented) are similarly saturated with campaign spots. The ads show up online as well, even on popular smartphone apps such as “Words with Friends.”
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is saying he expects 20 to 25 percent of the state’s registered voters to cast ballots. Polling places open Tuesday at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.