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The View From Birmingham

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Remember that saying, all politics is local? Well, it's true - until those politics come to represent something much bigger. And that's where Alabama voters find themselves this week. At any other time, this would just be another special election to fill a Senate seat - probably not much voter turnout, not a whiff of national attention.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

But in this moment, the Republican Party is desperate to hold onto that seat, even though congressional Republicans in Washington do not much like the guy who won the GOP primary. We're of course talking about Roy Moore, who, in any other election, would be a shoo-in against his Democratic opponent Doug Jones because it's such a red state. The allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct against Roy Moore have changed that.

MARTIN: It's been a dilemma, even for Alabama's other senator, Republican Richard Shelby. He was on CNN yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")

RICHARD SHELBY: I'd rather see the Republican win, but I hope that Republican would be a write-in. I couldn't vote for Roy Moore. I didn't vote for Roy Moore. But I wrote in a distinguished Republican name, and I think a lot of people could do that. Will they do it? I'm not sure.

MARTIN: For the view from Alabama, we are joined now by Kyle Whitmire. He's a political columnist for the Alabama Media Group.

Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

KYLE WHITMIRE: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Polls say this race is now neck and neck. If these polls are right and it is actually that close - I mean, that's a big if, right? - how much of that would be because of the allegations against Roy Moore?

WHITMIRE: Yeah, I think - well, a lot of it will be because of that. I think if we'd seen good polling throughout this race, we would have seen very little movement back and forth. You know, a matter of inches matters a lot in this race. And those allegations, you know, pushed that toward - you know, pushed the needle toward Doug Jones in a serious way. But Roy Moore has done a very good job in the last few weeks of, if not answering these allegations, trying to delegitimize them, trying to argue that they're made up, trying to convince voters that national media are selling fictions about him. And a lot of Alabamians are listening to that.

MARTIN: So let's talk about that because even his most loyal supporters - they just - they say that these are not true. Right? They are largely very religious people. We're talking about Christians who advocate a very strict moral code of behavior. I mean, what are they telling you? How do they reconcile their support of Moore and the allegations against him - that include sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl?

WHITMIRE: A lot of people are questioning the timing. That seems to be the most common refrain that we're hearing these days. Is...

MARTIN: The whole, why now?

WHITMIRE: ...Why is this coming out now?

And my typical reply to that is well, do you believe the allegations against Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey or others that have, you know, taken so long to come out? That seems to be the pattern of how these cases work. But they're looking at this one in isolation from all the other similar scandals that we've seen in the last few months.

MARTIN: So what about people who are more conflicted over whether or not to support the GOP candidate, people who might find the - who might believe the allegations but are still, in the end, likely to vote for Roy Moore because he's the Republican guy?

WHITMIRE: Well, I think that's why Senator Shelby's statements on television yesterday are so important - is that there are a lot of Republicans out there who are considering voting for a write-in candidate - really as a protest vote. I don't know that any of them have - you know, any are operating under any assumption that this might, you know, they might be able to put in another candidate at the eleventh hour. That's just not realistic.

But I think there is some aggravation here among conservative voters of what their party has produced here in Alabama in the last few years. I mean, this is the latest in several scandals. We lost a governor earlier this year in a sex scandal. We lost a House speaker the year before that who was convicted on corruption charges. And in the middle of all that, Roy Moore was again removed from office from the Supreme Court for thumbing his nose at the federal courts.

So I think there are a lot of conservative voters out there who've seen this succession of embarrassments. And they're sick of it, and they would like an option where they don't have to vote for the Democrat. But they can't make their voice heard.

MARTIN: You have written - even perhaps warned - about what you describe as the quote, "Alabamafication of America." What does that mean?

WHITMIRE: I think it is a cycle of insecurity, exploitation of those insecurities and then national media, late-night talk shows telling Alabama, you know, how awful it is. And - you know, so it's right for someone like a Steve Bannon or a Roy Moore to come in and say, you know, all these people think that you're stupid. I don't. I know you. I'm one of you.

And those candidates - and setting Roy Moore aside, those candidates have been supported by business interests here. There's a reinforcing effect that, you know, it's sort of a doom loop of Alabama politics. And hopefully, we can break out of it.

MARTIN: Do you think Roy Moore wins?

WHITMIRE: I am not going to make a prediction in this race. I've learned that when you don't know, it's best to go ahead and say you don't know.

MARTIN: Kyle Whitmire, political columnist for the Alabama Media Group. Thanks so much for your time.

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