Alabama Senate race winner urges Republican rival to 'move on'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Alabama Democrat Doug Jones, who won a bitter fight for a U.S. Senate seat this week, on Thursday 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 teenaged 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, will be the first Democrat to hold a Senate seat in Alabama in a quarter-century, narrowing Republicans’ majority in the Senate to 51 of 100 seats and potentially making it more difficult for them to pursue President Donald Trump’s agenda.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, Jones had a lead of 1.5 percentage points over Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court Justice.

Alabama’s secretary of state, a Republican, has said the remaining ballots from Tuesday’s election were unlikely to 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.”

Asked whether Moore should concede, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters, “I’m surprised. It sounds like it ... should have already taken place.”

Jones on Wednesday said he had received congratulatory phone calls from Trump, who had endorsed Moore, as well as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

“The president’s already called and congratulated Doug Jones and expressed his willingness to work with him and meet with him when he arrives,” Sanders said.

Reporting by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Jeff Mason; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Bill Trott