BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Stunned Republicans began casting blame Wednesday over their failure to hold a Senate seat in the Deep South, where Alabama Democrat Doug Jones stitched together just enough support to win amid voter backlash to accusations of sexual misconduct against his firebrand Republican rival.

Even as Republican Roy Moore – down by more than 20,000 votes in Tuesday’s special election – refused to concede the race, members of the Republican Party began pointing fingers at one another for his defeat after being steamrolled in Virginia’s elections last month.

The recriminations highlighted the bitter divisions within the Republican Party that appear to be worsening as the party looks toward defending its Senate majority in 2018, a task made more difficult by Moore’s loss and an increasingly unpopular President Trump.

The blow in Tuesday’s election also highlighted voter dismay over allegations that Moore pursued romantic relationships with teenage girls while in his 30s, as well as the limits of Trump’s political influence.

Democrats celebrated their victory and called for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to delay a vote on the Republican tax plan until after Jones is sworn in.

“It would be wrong for Senate Republicans to jam through this tax bill without giving the newly elected senator from Alabama the opportunity to cast his vote,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a news conference on Capitol Hill. Schumer said he had spoken to Jones, but did not ask him how he would vote on the measure.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers, strategists and party figures picked sides: either with McConnell, who kept his distance from Moore’s campaign, or with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who was among Moore’s most ardent backers.

In a tweet, even Trump suggested that Moore had been a weak candidate, a tacit rebuke of Bannon’s support. Trump also tried to defend his track record by saying he knew Moore would lose, though he campaigned for him in the final weeks.

“Wish we would have gotten the seat,” the president later told reporters at the White House. “I want to endorse the people that are running, but I will tell you that to me it’s very, very, just very important to get this vote,” he said, referring to the tax overhaul.

Bannon, speaking on Breitbart News radio, credited Democrats for their “ground game.”

“If you get outworked, you’re going to lose. And I’ve got to tell you, their ability to get out votes – that’s what it comes down to,” he said.

On cable news and social media, Republicans tried to explain away the loss – which will leave the Republican Party with just a one-seat majority in the Senate.

“Mitch McConnell should have stayed out of this race,” conservative Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., said in an interview with MSNBC. “If he would have, we would have a Republican senator coming out instead of a Democratic one.”

Similar complaints were voiced during the Republican primary runoff in September, when McConnell supported Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., over candidates preferred by conservative voters – and then persuaded Trump to do the same.

Speaking for the party’s establishment wing, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., tweeted that Republicans must “DUMP” Bannon, who supported Moore even as other conservative Republicans abandoned him over the allegations of sexual misconduct.

“If we are to Make America Great Again for all Americans, Bannon must go!” King wrote on Twitter.

Other Republicans sought principally to defend Trump, who supported two losing Republicans during the course of the election.

“When it comes to Alabama politics Steve Bannon should have followed President @realDonaldTrump lead in supporting Luther Strange. Trump’s instincts on the Alabama race proved to be correct,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a former Trump critic who has joined the president’s fold, wrote on Twitter.

Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, David Bossie, suggested that the Republican National Committee should not have cut ties with Moore at one point before changing course and lending him support again earlier this month.

“This president didn’t support this candidate (Moore) in the primary,” Bossie said in an interview with Fox News. “He played the hand that was dealt to him.”

Jones’ victory portended the headwinds facing Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections, coming just a month after a historic Republican wipeout in the battleground state of Virginia. With Jones in office, Democrats will have a credible, if still difficult, path to retake control of the Senate two years into Trump’s term.

The result could also become a factor in upcoming legislative battles, as Republicans will have one less vote in the narrowly divided Senate in 2018. Although McConnell has said that the Republican tax overhaul will be completed before the end of the year, the impact of Tuesday’s outcome on the ongoing debate is unknown.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., spoke with Jones on Wednesday morning.

“The people of Alabama have spoken. Congratulations to Doug Jones. … I look forward to working together to do what’s best for the great state of Alabama,” Shelby said in a statement.

Moore showed no signs that he would go quietly.

After the race was called by the Associated Press, Moore declined to concede defeat, saying he believed that the margin of victory could narrow enough to trigger a recount. Jones’ margin of victory was 1.5 percentage points; votes would only be recounted automatically if he won by 0.5 percentage points or fewer.

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