WASHINGTON (AP) — Credit six-term Republican Sen. Richard Shelby for Democrat Doug Jones' shocking win in Alabama, senators from both parties said Wednesday.
Shelby, Alabama's senior senator and the state's most influential official, publicly opposed GOP nominee Roy Moore and declared before the election that "the state of Alabama deserves better" than a former judge accused of sexual contact with teenage girls decades ago.
A former Democrat, Shelby, 83, announced weeks before the election that he had already cast an absentee ballot for another, unspecified Republican, even as President Donald Trump and other prominent state Republicans stood up for Moore.
"I give the Alabama voters a lot of credit for the courage in rejecting Roy Moore's candidacy and I think Sen. Shelby deserves a lot of credit for speaking out and encouraging people to write-in a Republican candidate" other than Moore, said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who also opposed Moore.
"I think it's very telling that there were more write-in ballots cast than the margin of victory," Collins said Wednesday.
Jones beat Moore by more than 20,000 votes in a race in which some 22,000 write-in votes were cast. Anecdotally, some Alabama voters said they went with revered football coach Nick Saban.
Shelby deflected any credit, telling reporters there was no way to measure the impact of his write-in effort.
"I just did what I thought I needed to do," he said.
Shelby, who has served in the Senate for 30 years, said he was thankful that Moore would not be joining the Senate, bringing with him a litany of sexual misconduct allegations and a near-certain ethics inquiry.
"I'm relieved and I believe a lot of Republicans are relieved that Roy Moore and some of his people aren't the face of the Republican Party that I know," Shelby said.
The accusations against Moore left many GOP voters and leaders in a quandary. Voters in the solidly Republican state had to choose whether to back Moore or send Jones to Washington, narrowing the GOP's already precarious majority in the Senate.
Shelby said allegations that Moore had molested a 14-year-old girl were a "tipping point" in disqualifying him.
Voters "chose principle over politics," he said. "I think it helps Republicans in the long run that we won't have someone that would be so radioactive, so controversial ... trying to define the Republican Senate, which he couldn't and he won't now."
Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., said Shelby's call to write-in someone other than Moore played a key role in the outcome.
"Sen. Shelby's an icon in Alabama, as he is in the Senate," Perdue said. "When he speaks, people listen."
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, said Shelby and Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake — who made a $100 donation to Jones — "showed extraordinary courage in what they did. And I think history will treat them well."
Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, who lost to Moore in a GOP primary, said Shelby had a major impact on the general election race. "No one's done more than he has for our state," Strange said.
Shelby shrugged off the accolades, and was mum about who he voted for. "I haven't told my wife yet," he said.