Howell Raines is a legendary figure in journalism, an Alabama native who joined The New York Times in 1978 and was executive editor of the paper from 2001 to 2003. He’s also published a novel, two memoirs, and an unforgettable oral history of the civil-rights movement, My Soul is Rested. This interview has been edited and condensed.pa
Jon Wiener: We are trying to understand politics in Alabama, where the Republican Senate candidate, Roy Moore, is reported to have sexually molested a 14-year-old girl after luring her to his remote home in the Alabama hills. Another woman said Moore tried to rape her when she was 16 and he was district attorney in Gadsden, Alabama. That’s shocking enough for any senate candidate, especially one who’s running as an evangelical Christian. But the bigger shock is that the Republicans in the state, so far, anyway, are not rescinding their endorsements of him. All seven of Alabama’s Republican representatives in the House continue to support him. So Roy Moore remains the Republican candidate for the Senate from Alabama. Can you help us understand why?
Howell Raines: I covered my first George Wallace segregation rally in 1965, and I’ve been trying to figure out Alabama’s politics ever since. This has to be the most bizarre episode in my experience. It’s breaking out in a number of different ways. Alabama rank-and-file Republicans are in a state of shock. Fifty percent of the Republican voters in Alabama are self-identified evangelicals. They seem to be holding steady. But in the affluent suburbs around Birmingham and Mobile, there’s a kind of a soccer-mom backlash, where professionals and women are saying, “You know, this will not do.” But in those same suburbs, like the one I live in—Fairhope, Alabama—today I heard a dyed-in-the-wool Alabama Republican say he’s voting for Roy Moore, and going to put a Roy Moore sign in his yard.
On the official side, everyone seems frozen in place. There seems to be universal agreement that they’d like to have another candidate. I was at a luncheon today with about 20 Alabama businessmen, middle-aged and successful. At least four-fifths of them are Republicans. They’re almost embarrassed to talk about the race. There seems to be general support for the view that if they could get rid of him they would. What they would really like to see happen is for Kay Ivey, the Republican governor, to delay the election. She may have the statutory authority to do that. That would give the Republican Party a chance to put another nominee on the ticket—probably Luther Strange or Jeff Sessions. There’s a lot of sentiment here for Sessions to come back home. And it’s thought that he might actually be able to run a successful write-in campaign under Alabama law.