Doug Jones, a Democratic former prosecutor who mounted a seemingly quixotic Senate campaign in the face of Republican dominance here, defeated his scandal-scarred opponent, Roy S. Moore, after a brutal campaign marked by accusations of sexual abuse and child molestation against the Republican.
The upset delivered an unimagined victory for Democrats and shaved Republicans’ unstable Senate majority to a single seat.
Mr. Jones’s victory could have significant consequences on the national level, snarling Republicans’ legislative agenda in Washington and opening, for the first time, a realistic but still difficult path for Democrats to capture the Senate next year. It amounted to a stinging snub of President Trump, who broke with much of his party and fully embraced Mr. Moore’s candidacy, seeking to rally support for him in the closing days of the campaign.
Amid thunderous applause from his supporters at a downtown hotel, Mr. Jones held up his victory as a message to Washington from voters fed up with political warfare. For once, he said, Alabama had declined to take “the wrong fork” at a political crossroads.
“We have shown the country the way that we can be unified,” Mr. Jones declared, draping his election in the language of reconciliation and consensus. “This entire race has been about dignity and respect. This campaign has been about the rule of law.”
Propelled by a backlash against Mr. Moore, an intensely polarizing former judge who was accused of sexually assaulting young girls, Mr. Jones overcame the state’s daunting demographics and deep cultural conservatism. His campaign targeted African-American voters with a sprawling, muscular turnout operation, and appealed to educated white voters to turn their backs on the Republican Party.
Those pleas paid off on Tuesday, as precincts in Birmingham and its suburbs handed Mr. Jones overwhelming margins while he also won convincingly in Huntsville and other urban centers. The abandonment of Mr. Moore by affluent white voters, along with strong support from black voters, proved decisive, allowing Mr. Jones to transcend Alabama’s rigid racial polarization and assemble a winning coalition. And solidifying Mr. Jones’s victory were the Republican-leaning residents who chose to write in the name of a third candidate rather than back one of the two major party nominees. More than 20,000 voters here cast write-in ballots, which amounted to 1.7 percent of the electorate – about the same as Mr. Jones’s overall margin.
To progressive voters, Mr. Jones’s victory was a long-awaited rejection of the divisive brand of politics that Alabama has inevitably rewarded even as some of its Southern neighbors were turning to more moderate leaders.
At a party for Mr. Jones, Sue Bell Cobb, a former chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court, said that he had overcome a culture of “toxic partisanship,” reaching out to Republicans and electrifying restive Democrats.
“Never has there been this level of civic engagement,” said Ms. Cobb, who is planning to run for governor next year. “Never has it happened.”
She was drowned out by a raucous cry from her fellow Democrats and clasped her hands to her face as she saw on a huge projection screen that Mr. Jones had pulled ahead. Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham, a newly inaugurated Democrat standing just feet away, beamed as returns from his city helped put Mr. Jones over the top.
not just to America but to the world.”
The campaign, originally envisioned as a pro forma affair to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general, developed in its final months into a referendum on Alabama’s identity, Mr. Trump’s political influence and the willingness of hard-right voters to tolerate a candidate accused of preying on teenage girls.
Mr. Jones, 63, best known for prosecuting two Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, offered himself chiefly as a figure of conciliation. He vowed to pursue traditional Democratic policy aims, in areas such as education and health care, but also pledged to cross party lines in Washington and partner with Senator Richard C. Shelby, the long-tenured Alabama Republican, to defend the state’s interests.
Mr. Moore did little in the general election to make himself more acceptable to conventional Republicans. To the extent he delivered a campaign message, it was a rudimentary one, showcasing his support for Mr. Trump and highlighting Mr. Jones’s party affiliation. But after facing allegations in early November that he sexually abused a 14-year-old girl and pursued relationships with other teenagers, Mr. Moore became a scarce presence on the campaign trail.
On election night, as the results came in from Alabama’s cities and Mr. Moore’s lead evaporated, the mood at the candidate’s election night party in Montgomery darkened. A saxophonist played a slow rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and the crowd quieted as the results from The New York Times website posted on a projection screen turned toward Mr. Jones.
Taking the stage over an hour after The Associated Press called the race, Mr. Moore refused to concede and instructed a subdued crowd to “wait on God and let this process play out.”
“Go home and sleep on it,” he told supporters.
The election is a painful setback for Republicans in Washington, who have already struggled to enact policies of any scale and now face even tougher legislative math. Mr. Moore’s success in the Republican primary here, and the subsequent general-election fiasco, may deter mainstream Republicans from seeking office in 2018 and could prompt entrenched incumbents to consider retirement.
But there is also a measure of relief for some party leaders that Mr. Moore will not join the chamber, carrying with him a radioactive cloud of scandal. A number of Republicans, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, had indicated that Mr. Moore would face an ethics investigation if he were elected, and possibly expulsion from the Senate.
Mr. Trump and Republican activists would most likely have opposed such a measure, setting up a potentially drastic, monthslong clash within the Republican Party, now averted thanks to Mr. Jones.
Still, that relief comes at a steep price. Before the election in Alabama, Republicans were heavily favored to keep control of the Senate in 2018, when Democrats must defend 25 seats, including 10 in states that Mr. Trump carried in 2016. Just two or three Republican-held seats appear vulnerable, in Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee.
But after Mr. Jones is sworn in, Republicans will control only 51 seats, creating a plausible route for Democrats to take over.
If the election burst into the national consciousness in early November, with the sex-abuse claims against Mr. Moore, it was an intensifying political migraine for Republican leaders months before then. Mr. Trump’s decision to pluck Mr. Sessions from the Senate in early 2017 touched off a grim comedy of errors for the party, involving two Alabama governors, a Senate appointment widely seen as tainted by corruption, a rescheduled special election and a botched attempt by national Republican donors to crush dissent in the Republican primary.
For all their efforts, party leaders were rewarded with Mr. Moore, whom they grudgingly embraced in the early fall — just in time for a scandal of unmatched luridness to appear.
The Washington Post reported in early November that Mr. Moore, while a local prosecutor in his 30s, had made sexual overtures to four teenage girls, one of whom was 14 at the time of their encounter. Other women soon stepped forward to say Mr. Moore had made advances on them, too, one of whom accused him of committing sexual assault.
National Republican officials abandoned Mr. Moore’s campaign. Yet after it appeared that Mr. Moore remained viable, Mr. Trump offered a Thanksgiving week defense of the candidate and urged the people of Alabama to oppose Mr. Jones.
Mr. Trump’s intervention helped stabilize Mr. Moore’s campaign. When the president made the case for the Republican’s candidacy at a Friday rally in the Gulf Coast town of Pensacola, Fla., just over the Alabama border, Mr. Jones’s campaign saw its internal polling advantage dissipate.