Alabama Senate race winner urges Republican rival to ‘move on’

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Alabama Democrat Doug Jones, who won a bitter fight for a U.S. Senate seat this week, called on his Republican opponent to concede the race and help heal the Southern state after a deeply divisive contest.

Democrat Doug Jones, who won the special U.S. Senate election against Republican candidate Roy Moore, speaks during a news conference in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S., December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry

Roy Moore, the conservative Christian Republican whose campaign was tainted by accusations that he pursued teenager girls while in his 30s, made a second statement on Wednesday night in which he did not concede the election.

Jones, a former federal prosecutor, defeated Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court justice, in a special election on Tuesday that saw a Democratic win a Senate seat in the state for the first time in a quarter-century. The result also raised questions about Republicans’ future under U.S. President Donald Trump.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, Jones had a lead of 1.5 percentage points over Moore, and the state’s secretary of state, a Republican, has said the remaining ballots were unlikely shrink the victory to the half a percentage point margin required to trigger a recount.

Jones said in an interview with NBC that he was confident of the outcome.

“It’s time to move on,” he said. “The people of Alabama have now spoken … Let’s get this behind us so the people of Alabama can get someone in there and start working for them.”

Jones on Wednesday said he had received congratulatory phone calls from Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, and Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader.

Trump had attacked Jones and endorsed Moore, who was accused of trying to initiate sexual contact with one woman when she was 14. Moore has denied the allegations.

In a video statement released Wednesday night, Moore said he would not step aside as military and provisional ballots were still being counted and the race was not yet certified. He also derided the Washington establishment and contemporary society.

“We are indeed in a struggle to preserve our republic, our civilization, and our religion and to set free a suffering humanity,” Moore said. “And the battle rages on.”

Jones’ win will reduce Republicans’ hold on the Senate, narrowing their majority to 51 seats of 100 as they seek to push through Trump’s legislative agenda.

Schumer has called on Republican leadership to hold their vote on pending tax legislation until Alabama certifies the election result and Jones is seated in the chamber.

On Thursday, Jones told NBC that he did not have a position on that.

“I want to make sure it’s done right,” he said.

Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott