NASHVILLE — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Wednesday that Alabama Republican Roy Moore's Senate race loss is "good for America" as well as the Republican Party so "that people understand this kind of beyond-the-pale extremism just is not going to elect Republicans to office."
"Look, the voters of Alabama have to be disappointed in what their primaries produced," Corker said in a telephone interview. "Any normal person who could have just put one foot in front of the other during this campaign would have won, hands down."
Unofficial results from the special election show Democrat Doug Jones upsetting Moore by 52-48 percent in the staunchly Republican state, which has not elected a Democrat to the Senate in some 25 years.
Moore, an attorney and former Alabama Supreme Court judge, was battling accusations that while still in his 30s he had dated teenagers, pursued sexual relations with some, while one woman, now an adult, said he touched her in a sexual manner when she was 14.
At the same time, Moore's stances on some positions were controversial.
Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, had been critical of Moore for months. The senator announced in September he wouldn't seek re-election as he became increasingly critical of President Donald Trump.facebook
Meanwhile, Tennessee's two other top Republican officeholders said Moore's loss was hardly a shocker in their eyes.
"I'm not surprised that the good people of Alabama decided to reject Roy Moore, because, in my opinion, he does not represent the future of the Republican Party," U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said via a prepared statement.
Speaking with reporters in Nashville, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said "the message" from Alabama's contest "is what I've been talking about all along.
"Republicans need to elect people who can win two elections," said Haslam, referring to a party primary contest and then the general election. "And we obviously nominated somebody in Alabama who couldn't do that."
There "were some character concerns and questions, as well, and all of that adds up to the Republicans lost a seat we should never have lost," the governor said.
Asked if there is a message in that for Tennessee Republicans, the term-limited Haslam said, "I think you've seen, just like the elections you've seen in Virginia and New Jersey, you're seeing some changing voting patterns with folks. For people in my party, it's a heads-up.
"We need to be thinking about why we're losing some voters we've traditionally gotten," the governor added.
Analysts are ascribing Jones' victory over Moore as well as this year's contests in Virginia to Democrats energized by their opposition to Trump, increased black turnout and an increase in support in suburban areas, as well as among college-educated white women.
Corker noted write-in ballots from Republicans who evidently couldn't bring themselves to vote for Moore made the difference in the upset. He credited a colleague, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., for that.
Shelby "told his state they could do better, that they ought to consider a write-in," Corker said of the senator, who had opposed Moore. "It actually looks like the number of write-in votes made the difference."
Both Corker and Haslam were less than enthralled by the actions of former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon, who backed Moore in his GOP primary and held rallies for Moore in the general election. Bannon has also been critical of Corker and had sought to find a GOP primary opponent for him before Corker announced he would not seek a third term.
Refusing to mention Bannon by name, Corker said "I've always thought everybody's focus on that particular individual was just misplaced. I've always viewed this person as someone who sees a big crowd moving in a direction or a parade of people moving in a direction and he runs in front of them acting as if he's leading it. This trend was already there."
He cited "a weird dynamic an unusual dynamic that's developed over the last couple of years. Obviously there is an anti-Washington sentiment there, but I don't think that's being created by that individual [Bannon]."
Rather, Corker believes "it just exists after years of frustration that people have had with Washington."
Corker said he also thinks the message a Moore victory would have sent "would have been really harmful to Republicans seeking office in Tennessee and other states." It would have made Moore a "standard bearer" of sorts for Republicans, he said, adding, "We already have issues with voters."
"You just look at the way he conducted himself on the bench — having been twice removed from the bench, which is pretty tough to do, and having a religious test for people serving in Congress," Corker said.
And those types of conversations "have been a turnoff to voters, especially in suburban areas," he said.
Corker showed little interest for now in discussing the two main Republicans — U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood and former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher — who are vying to replace him.
Earlier on Wednesday, Corker told reporters in Washington he was "really, really happy" with Moore's loss, noting he had previously described Moore as a "bridge too far."
Two Republican strategists said privately they think Moore's loss belongs in its own special category and that what happened in Alabama won't in Tennessee.
Tennessee's Senate race instantly hit the national radar last week when former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a pro-business moderate Democrat, announced he was running for the Senate seat, joining previously announced candidate and Nashville attorney James Mackler in the Democratic field.
In the meantime, Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini celebrated Jones' victory over Moore in an email that also sought contributions for the party's 2018 effort.
"Democrats in Alabama just delivered a stunning victory for Doug Jones — and sanity," Mancini's fundraising appeal says. "They have proven that it doesn't matter how 'red' a state is perceived to be, when we do the work, and get people to the polls, we win."
Noting the win "comes on the heels of a blue tidal wave in Virginia that defied all expectations," Mancini said "Tennessee is positioned to do exactly the same thing if we have the resources to compete. There are amazing candidates stepping up to run for offices at every level."
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.