Fresh off winning the Republican nomination in a contentious runoff Tuesday night, Judge Roy Moore’s campaign says he has no intention of debating his general election opponent, Democrat Doug Jones, before the vote on December 12.
“We haven’t given it any consideration and probably will not give it any consideration,” Moore’s campaign chair, Bill Armistead, told The Intercept in an interview Wednesday. “I don’t think we’re gonna give it any consideration.”
After defeating Sen. Luther Strange in the Republican primary, the Moore campaign feels the hardest part of this special election is over. The general election — and a debate — are just formalities for a Republican in Alabama. A debate hasn’t been held for a major statewide office since the 2010 gubernatorial race.
And the Jones campaign might just let Moore have his way.
Sebastian Kitchen, a spokesperson for Jones, says his candidate hasn’t decided if he wants to insist on a debate with Moore, adding that he needs to “sit down” with Jones and have that discussion soon.
But quietly, Jones has been building a war chest for the general election.
According to Kitchen, the campaign has raised “over $1 million” since Jones announced his candidacy this summer. Federal Election Commission filings from July 31 show the campaign had only raised $287,752 during first-quarter fundraising, meaning the bulk of Jones’s cash came in the past two months alone.
Over the last week, however, the Democratic National Committee sent out three fundraising emails for Jones saying he had a “real opportunity to take back a seat in the Senate,” which could partially explain the massive increase.
When asked how the national attention had affected their fundraising efforts, Kitchen only said the campaign had seen a “substantial” increase in donations in the past two weeks, refusing to give specifics.
“We have had two consecutive weeks of record fundraising for the campaign,” Kitchen explains, “[w]ith a notable surge in the last 24 hours.”
Luckily for Jones, Moore is a notoriously bad fundraiser. The judge has been outspent in every major race he’s competed in, and this Senate race is no exception.
During the primary, Moore raised just $1.4 million against Luther Strange’s $3.9 million, according to FEC filings from earlier this month. Going into the general election, Moore is relying on Strange’s donors switching to him and whatever money Steve Bannon can scare up on the outside. (Even Moore’s lackluster haul outpaces Jones, a sign of how uphill the climb is for Jones.)
“We know that with the federal campaign, you know, it won’t be so hard [to attract donors],” says Armistead, “unless, you know, they want to provide support to a third party.”
But the Republican leadership and donor class fought hard to keep Moore from winning the Republican nomination.
Before the campaign even got underway in April, the National Republican Senatorial Committee announced it was treating Strange as an incumbent, telling political operatives in Alabama that if they worked for Strange’s opponents, they’d be blackballed from future NRSC contracts.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also backed Strange, dropping $2 million in statewide ad buys.
In their most popular ad — broadcast on both TV and radio — the SLF claimed Moore and his family had taken over $1 million in salary from his nonprofit, the Foundation for Moral Law. The ads infuriated Moore, who took particular offense to the mention of his wife.
“I’ll tell you this,” he said at an event in Shelby County last month, “I love that woman out there, and it hurts me very badly to see her attacked and see the foundation that we worked so hard for [attacked].”
In the last weeks of his campaign, Moore turned the ads into a platform to berate Strange, McConnell, and the NRSC for being part of the “Washington swamp.” The anti-establishment tone of the campaign attracted the nationalist wing of the Republican party, including Sarah Palin, Chuck Norris, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, and former Trump advisers Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.
Even President Donald Trump, who visited Alabama last Friday to campaign for Strange, said he “might have made a mistake” not endorsing Moore. While ostensibly giving a speech in support of Strange, Trump said that if Moore won Tuesday, he’d “be here campaigning like hell for him.”
Moore’s victory wasn’t a referendum on Trump so much as it was a referendum on former Gov. Robert Bentley.
Strange was Alabama’s attorney general when Bentley appointed him in February. While he was courting Bentley for the appointment, however, Strange had also been investigating the governor for corruption in covering up an illicit affair he’d had with a senior staffer. The appointment was widely seen as a quid pro quo between Strange and Bentley, who was able to resign quietly in April.
Voters never got a chance to express their anger with Bentley, so the election of Strange turned out to be the next best thing.
If anything, Moore’s nomination is the ultimate victory for Trump. It shows the president can win, even when he loses.
Not only has Moore embraced Trump’s border wall, the transgender military ban, the Muslim ban, and most other pillars of the Trump platform, but he’s also been backed by Breitbart, Bannon, Carson, Gorka, and other members of Trump’s orbit. Even the pro-Trump Great American PAC dumped $20,000 into pro-Moore advertising.
Moore is a Trump-style nationalist who has said homosexuality “should be illegal” and told Vox that “there are communities under Sharia law right now in our country.” Like Trump, Moore has also pushed the idea that former President Barack Obama was not an American citizen.
By Wednesday, the Moore campaign said it had received phone calls from the president, the vice president, McConnell, and representatives of the NRSC. And while the campaign has eagerly “welcomed” the president and vice president’s backing, it’s unclear if Moore will accept the olive branch offered by the Republican establishment.
Armistead says they have yet to decide whether they’ll accept outside support from the establishment wing of the party. “We have not made a final decision on it yet,” Armistead says, “We feel a little burned by what they did. And when you have someone attacking you the way they attacked us, and advocating lies about you, it takes a little while to get over that. So we’ll see how it plays out.”