Trump made a risky bet in Alabama Senate race and lost big

This article is more than 12 months old

The president's risky decision to back scandal-ridden candidate in Alabama has backfired

WASHINGTON: In backing Mr Roy Moore in Alabama's United States Senate race even though the candidate faced allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, President Donald Trump made a risky bet - and lost big.

The victory by Democrat Doug Jones, 63, over the Republican Moore, 70 is a catastrophe for Mr Trump, portending a Democratic wave next year that could cost Republicans control of one or both houses of Congress.

The stakes in Alabama were that high.

Democrats already were confident they had a strong chance of retaking the US House of Representatives in next year's congressional elections, Reuters reported.

Mr Jones' narrow victory increases their once-long odds of retaking control of the Senate as well.

If Democrats were to recapture both chambers, they would serve as a check on Mr Trump's agenda and might even initiate impeachment proceedings against him.

"That Republicans lost in one of the most Republican states in the nation is a wake-up call no matter how flawed their candidate was," said Mr Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Mr Trump was quick to distance himself from Mr Moore, saying he had been right all along that he could not win, AFP reported.

In an early morning tweet yesterday, the president recalled that he had originally endorsed Mr Moore's rival in the Republican primary, Mr Luther Strange.

"The reason I endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily) is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right!"

In an earlier tweet late on Tuesday, Mr Trump congratulated Jones on "a hard fought victory".

"The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win," he added.

Mr Moore has yet to concede the loss, and wants a recount.

With 100 per cent of Alabama precincts reporting, Mr Jones won 49.9 per cent of the vote compared to Mr Moore's 48.4 per cent, a margin of nearly 21,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast, according to results posted by US media.

Democrats never expected to have a chance in Alabama, where they had not won a Senate race in 25 years.

But the combination of Mr Trump's unpopularity, the sexual misconduct allegations that erupted against Mr Moore last month, and Mr Trump's enthusiastic support of him anyway gave them the opportunity, experts said.

"Mr Trump was the one who got Mr Jones within firing range, and Mr Moore allowed Jones to win," said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia.

The Alabama race showed there were limits both to Mr Trump's endorsement power and his judgment.

Even as senior Republicans urged the president to abandon Mr Moore, the president decided instead in the campaign's final days to throw the full weight of his office behind him.

In the end, that was not enough, and early turnout reports suggested that many Republicans stayed home.

Mr Moore's camp this week said the contest was specifically a referendum on Mr Trump and his presidency.

"It is Donald Trump on trial in Alabama," Mr Dean Young, a strategist for Moore, told ABC News.

Mr Brian Walsh, president of a pro-Trump group, America First Policies, said Mr Trump could not be blamed for Mr Moore's loss, arguing that the president's late endorsement almost won the race for Mr Moore, a deeply flawed candidate.

"He was trying to push a boulder up a hill," Mr Walsh said.