Democrat Doug Jones won an Alabama senate seat on Tuesday, beating a scandal-ridden Republican opponent and dealing a political blow to President Donald Trump, who had endorsed Roy Moore despite a litany of sexual misconduct allegations.
The historic win in the southern state cuts the Republican majority in the Senate to two seats, leaving the Republicans increasing vulnerable to an electoral backlash in the midterms next year.
The unthinkable happened in Alabama when Doug Jones became the first in his party since 1992 to win a senate race in the southern state after a vote was called to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions seat.
The defeat of Judge Roy Moore, a controversial Christian conservative who said a Muslim can't hold a public office, came after a bitter Republican primary battle in which the establishment candidate Luther Strange was beaten by the outsider.
The result sent shock waves across Washington, with Democrats celebrating a rare scalp in the Deep South.
A higher African American turnout, Democrats’ gains in the suburbs, and a more depressed Republican turn out delivered a win for Mr Jones against scandal-struck Republican rival Roy Moore. Mr Jones took 49.9 per cent to Mr Moore’s 48.4 per cent.
Mr Trump was quick to congratulate Mr Jones on a “hard fought victory” even though Mr Moore has not yet conceded the race. While Mr Trump strongly endorsed but did not campaign for Mr Moore, he distanced himself from the former judge on Wednesday.
“The reason I originally 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! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!” Mr Trump tweeted.
Finger-pointing within Republican ranks dominated the aftermath of the election. “Establishment Republicans Cheer Roy Moore’s Loss in Alabama”, a headline in the right-wing populist outlet Breitbart said. The Republican majority leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell came in for particular abuse for undermining the vote. Breitbart’s editor and former white house strategist Steve Bannon campaigned feverishly for Mr Moore in the last few weeks but could not deliver a win.
Republican rivals of Bannon, who has returned to his executive position at the right-wing Breitbart News site, were quick to blame him for the defeat.
"After Alabama disaster GOP must do right thing and DUMP Steve Bannon," Republican US Representative Peter King said. "His act is tired, inane and morally vacuous. If we are to Make America Great Again for all Americans, Bannon must go! And go NOW!!"
Other Republicans were happy to celebrate the defeat of their own ticket. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, tweeted “decency wins”.
Former Republican White House press secretary Ari Fleischer blamed Mr Trump’s low approval ratings for the loss:
“Establishment candidate Ed Gillespie [Virginia] lost. Non-establishment candidate Roy Moore lost. The lesson: A base-only POTUS isn’t enough for GOP to win. Ds hate Trump more than Rs love him. POTUS needs to increase his approval rating or D turnout will kill Rs in 2018.”
Republicans in Congress rushed to pass tax reform before their majority shrinks when Mr Jones takes office, likely in mid-January. Democrats for their part were elated by the win, pointing to a wave in their direction after the Virginia, New Jersey and now Alabama races. “If Democrats can win in Alabama, we can — and must — compete everywhere” former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted.
It soon emerged White House aide Omarosa Newman, a former contestant on Donald Trump's reality TV show The Apprentice, resigned on Wednesday.
Reporter April Ryan who first broke the news of dramatic night at the White House, said “sources say [chief of staff] General Kelly did the firing and Ms Omarosa is alleged to have acted very vulgar and cursed a lot and said she helped elect President Trump. The word is a General Kelly had it and got rid of her.”