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Polls point to a competitive Senate race in Alabama

Can a Democrat win a U.S. Senate race in Alabama, stopping Roy Moore? Polling suggests it's at least possible.
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks to the congregation of Kimberly Church of God, June 28, 2015, in Kimberley, Ala. (Photo by Butch Dill/AP)
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks to the congregation of Kimberly Church of God, June 28, 2015, in Kimberley, Ala.

Roy Moore, the Republican Party's U.S. Senate nominee in Alabama, has argued that pre-school is a Nazi-like institution for brainwashing children into being liberal. Hearing that, one might be tempted to think such a person would struggle to win a Senate campaign in this country.

And with that in mind, consider the latest polling from the Yellowhammer State. BuzzFeed noted late last week:

The Senate race in deep-red Alabama might be within reach for Democrats, after the Republican nomination of Roy Moore.The poll, conducted by Opinion Savvy and commissioned by Decision Desk HQ, finds that Moore leads Democratic opponent Doug Jones 50.2% to 44.5%. While still not a close-close race, that's definitely closer than a normal Senate race in Alabama for an off year.

These results are roughly in line with a new statewide poll, released this morning, that found Moore up by eight, 48% to 40%.

To be sure, when we look at Senate polls and see a candidate up by six to eight points, we generally assume he or she is fairly well positioned to prevail. And given everything we know about Alabama, Moore should be seen as the favorite.

But context matters. A Democrat hasn't seriously competed in a Senate race in Alabama in decades, and Moore is quite possibly the most radical major-party nominee in any statewide race Americans have seen in a generation.

Karl Rove recently warned that Moore is such an extremist, many Alabama voters would consider Doug Jones (D), a former federal prosecutor, as a plausible alternative. Donald Trump himself echoed this point, arguing two weeks ago that if Moore is nominated, the general election would be "a very tough race."

What if they're right?

Doug Jones is an important piece of this puzzle, and his credibility as a candidate improves his chances of pulling off an upset.

Indeed, Jones has an interesting pitch to Alabama's electorate, vowing never to "embarrass" the state's voters. The point isn't exactly subtle: over the course of about 10 months, Alabama's Republican state House Speaker was forced to resign in disgrace after being convicted of multiple felonies; Alabama's Republican governor was forced to resign in disgrace in the wake of a sex scandal; and Alabama's Republican state Supreme Court chief justice -- Roy Moore -- was forced from the bench for a second time following another round of ethics violations.

In other words, Jones is counting on the state's voters keeping an open mind after a whole series of far-right GOP officials have let them down.

Will Democrats outside the state rally to Jones' aid or take a pass and let Moore win? By all accounts, they haven't yet decided. The special election is Dec. 12, so they'll have to make up their minds quickly.