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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Alabama voters choosing senator in race with high stakes for Trump

The US President has endorsed fellow Republican Roy Moore despite allegations of sexual misconduct against the candidate

Roy Moore and his wife Kayla Moore ride on horseback to vote in Gallant, Alabama. Dan Anderson/ EPA
Roy Moore and his wife Kayla Moore ride on horseback to vote in Gallant, Alabama. Dan Anderson/ EPA

Voters in Alabama were casting ballots on Tuesday in a US Senate race with high stakes for President Donald Trump, who has endorsed fellow Republican Roy Moore despite allegations against the candidate of sexual misconduct toward teenagers.

Mr Moore, 70, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, is battling former US Attorney Doug Jones, 63, who hopes to pull off an upset victory in the deeply conservative Southern state.

The race will test Trump's political clout after nearly a year in office, with his approval ratings at historically low levels. A win by Moore would strengthen Trump's grip on the Republican Party, as other Republican leaders have refused to back Moore.

A Jones victory could mean trouble for Trump and his populist political base. It would narrow the Republicans' already slim majority in the US Senate, possibly making it harder for Mr Trump to advance his policy agenda.

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Read more:

Trump's critics turn up the heat as sexual allegations re-emerge

Republicans leaders rally round Moore despite misconduct claims

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Mr Moore has been accused by multiple women of pursuing them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30's, including one woman who said he tried to initiate sexual contact with her when she was 14. Mr Moore has denied any misconduct.

The accusations come amid a wave of such allegations against powerful men, including Trump. Democrats have signalled that, if Moore wins, they will try to tar Republicans as insensitive to women’s concerns.

Polls close at 7pm on Tuesday (5am GST Wednesday) in the special election to fill a seat vacated by Republican Jeff Sessions, who became US attorney general in the Trump administration.

Mr Moore showed up to vote at the Gallant Fire Department in northern Alabama on horseback, wearing a cowboy hat.

Polling locations around Montgomery, the state capital, saw a steady stream of visitors throughout the morning, and anecdotal reports from across the state suggested a relatively high turnout elsewhere as well.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told the AL.com news site that he expected roughly 25 percent of registered voters would participate, lower than the 64 percent who voted in last year's presidential election.

The state of Alabama held a closely-watched special election for US Senate featuring Republican candidate Roy Moore, who is endorsed by President Donald Trump despite being accused of molesting teenage girls. Jim Watson/ AFP Photo
The state of Alabama held a closely-watched special election for US Senate featuring Republican candidate Roy Moore, who is endorsed by President Donald Trump despite being accused of molesting teenage girls. Jim Watson/ AFP Photo

Republicans have been bitterly divided over whether it is better to support Moore to protect their Senate majority or shun him because of the sexual misconduct allegations.

Several prominent Republican senators have distanced themselves from Moore and a political group that works to elect Republicans to the chamber has stayed out of the race.

Alabama's senior US senator, Richard Shelby, said he did not vote for Mr Moore. Without mentioning Mr Moore by name, Republican former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an African-American who grew up in Alabama, called the special election "one of the most significant in Alabama’s history."

But Mr Trump endorsed Moore last week.

"Roy Moore will always vote with us. VOTE ROY MOORE!" Trump said in a Twitter post in which he criticised Mr Jones as a potential "puppet" of the Democratic congressional leadership.

On the eve of Tuesday's election, Mr Moore was joined on the campaign trail by Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist, who blasted Republican critics.

"There's a special place in hell for Republicans who should know better," he said.

Most opinion polls showed Mr Moore ahead, but some gave the edge to Mr Jones - a sign of the difficulty of forecasting a special election being held a few weeks before Christmas.