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Alabama Sends The First Democrat To The U.S. Senate In 25 Years

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And I'm Rachel Martin at WBHM in Birmingham, Ala., where voters have picked Doug Jones to be their new senator. He will be the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the Senate in 25 years. Jones won by a very narrow margin - 49.9 percent of the vote or about a percent and a half more than his opponent, Republican Roy Moore. Moore is the former chief justice of the Alabama state Supreme Court, who's been facing multiple accusations of sexual abuse.

So how did this political upset happen? We've got John Archibald with us this morning. He's a columnist for al.com, and he's here with us in the studios of WBHM in Birmingham. John, thanks for coming in.

JOHN ARCHIBALD: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Been a long night (laughter).

ARCHIBALD: It really has.

MARTIN: Not a lot of sleep. How did Doug Jones pull this off?

ARCHIBALD: Wow. Well, you know, at the very end, Richard Shelby came in and was one of the few Republicans who actually said, I can't vote for Roy Moore. A lot of us dismissed that sort of at the time.

MARTIN: Richard Shelby, the sitting U.S. senator from Alabama.

ARCHIBALD: Right. It looks like that actually helped push him over the edge. The black vote came out in large numbers and helped push him over, and the cities really dominated. Jefferson County, where Birmingham is, had strong support for Jones, and that was apparently, we say, I guess, enough to push him over at the end.

MARTIN: Do we know yet how successful he was? Jones wasn't picking up Republican votes.

ARCHIBALD: Well, we know that there were enough Republicans - apparent Republicans - who took the advice of writing in other candidates if they couldn't stomach voting for Jones. That was pretty effective. All of the strategies that he kind of laid out that he had to have happen in order to win seemed to have happened.

MARTIN: Just an alignment of all those different forces.

ARCHIBALD: Just everything worked well.

MARTIN: So in the end, is it possible to know at this point how much the allegations of sexual abuse against Roy Moore played into this vote?

ARCHIBALD: Well, I don't really think it is. I think if you look at the sort of the course of the campaign, if you look at the numbers that the campaign was talking about from the beginning, I don't think it had a huge impact at all. In some ways, it sort of motivated the Moore base as much as it did the Jones base, but...

MARTIN: Oh, interesting because they said we got to protect our guy.

ARCHIBALD: Right. We don't believe the allegations. It's a plot by the Republican establishment and the Democrats. And in the end, I don't think it had that - as much effective as any sort of reasonable person might think it would looking in from outside that think it was the big game changer. But it was just another element in this very complicated and very unusual race.

MARTIN: What do we know about women's votes? What did the polling data tell us about how they went?

ARCHIBALD: The women behind Doug Jones' campaign were loud and strong and persistent. And you can't underestimate how hard his supporters really worked in that, whether it was social media, whether it's knocking on doors. They had a - just an astonishing number of people knocking on doors in the last of the campaign. I think that's really what made the difference because Roy Moore - I've never seen a campaign like Roy Moore's in that he did not come out and he did not go out into communities and talk to people in any kind of volume. I mean, you hate to put it this way, but it was almost one of the laziest campaigns I've ever seen. The only time he came out to talk to people was when Steve Bannon came down, for instance. And...

MARTIN: Did he take it for granted that he was going to win this red state?

ARCHIBALD: He took it for granted. And I think - I think that it was strategically thought by his campaign that the less he was out sort of ad libbing in public the better off he would be. And in the end - I mean, for instance, he went to the Army-Navy game over the weekend...

MARTIN: Right.

ARCHIBALD: ...Rather than stay here and campaign. And I think that people - that that bit him at the end.

MARTIN: Just briefly - is this a one-off or does Doug Jones' victory change things for politics in Alabama?

ARCHIBALD: Well, that's a really good question, the one people are - of course, we have a gubernatorial race coming up next year, and there are Democrats who, you know, are really looking at this race to see if it means anything for them.

MARTIN: John Archibald, we'll have to leave it there - a columnist for the Alabama media group al.com Thanks so much.

ARCHIBALD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.