MONTGOMERY, Ala. — What do Robert E. Lee, SpongeBob SquarePants, Nick Saban, Jesus Christ and George C. Wallace have in common?
With no campaigns and no war chests — but, in some cases, tombstones — they all came up short in the Dec. 12 special election for a United States Senate seat from Alabama, according to county-level tallies that the secretary of state’s office released on Thursday.
That Wallace and Elmer Fudd lost was not a surprise, even after the off-the-rails campaign that pitted Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee and ultimate victor, against Roy S. Moore, a Republican and a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
But Mr. Jones won by fewer than 22,000 votes, and more than 22,800 residents, including Senator Richard C. Shelby, a Republican and the dean of Alabama’s congressional delegation, elected to write in the names of other figures whether they were dead, alive or fictional. Many voters who opted for write-in candidates said they found Mr. Jones too liberal, and Mr. Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct or inappropriate advances involving teenage girls, too toxic or extreme.
The write-ins ranged from the predictable to the downright weird.
The runner-up to Mr. Moore in the Republican primary managed to win the general election’s write-in sweepstakes.
Mr. Strange, a stalwart of the Republican establishment, was appointed to the Senate in February after a stint as state attorney general. But his bid to fill the rest of Mr. Sessions’s term fell well short, in part because of suspicions over how he got the Senate gig in the first place. (It is a long story involving scandalous recordings, a grand jury, unproven hunches and a disgraced governor, who is now on probation and practicing dermatology in Tuscaloosa.)
Mr. Strange won about 7,800 write-in votes. At least one voter remembered his nickname and wrote in the senator, who is 6-foot-9, as “Big Luther Strange.”
Mr. Strange did not mount a formal write-in campaign, as some Republicans hoped he would, but some other people in Alabama did. One, Lee Busby, pulled in about 5,500 votes.
Pawnee and the North Pole
In a race that sometimes seemed stranger than fiction, some voters went for, well, actual fiction.
Ron Swanson, of the NBC series “Parks and Recreation,” picked up votes in Etowah County, where Mr. Moore was once a prosecutor and a judge, and in Shelby County. Bozo the Clown had the support of a handful of Alabamians, and Mr. SquarePants got a vote in the Huntsville area.
Mickey Mouse has a rather animated, time-tested get-out-the-vote operation and picked up votes throughout the state.
The votes for Mr. Strange, along with figures like the former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the former Gov. Bob Riley, will be recorded in the annals of Alabama history. But the State of Alabama is humorless when it comes to write-in votes. So ballots for fictional figures like Mr. Swanson and Buddy the Elf did not amount to much of anything.
“There are certain people that may receive write-in votes that may not be eligible to receive those votes, and if they’re not, they will not be properly acknowledged or duly noted,” John H. Merrill, the secretary of state, said on election night. “For example, if it’s a cartoon character, that doesn’t count.”
Sorry, Bugs Bunny. (He won votes, too.)
Old habits die hard: Mr. Sessions was first elected to the Senate in 1996, and it appears some Alabamians still want him there. Even though he is now the United States attorney general, Mr. Sessions, who vacated the seat that Mr. Jones will fill, remains a popular figure in Alabama and won more than 400 votes.
Mr. Sessions said he cast an absentee ballot, but he refused to identify his candidate of choice. His boss, President Trump, endorsed Mr. Moore.
Other historical figures attracted support. Jesus Christ captured a share of the vote — not altogether surprising in a state where almost nine in 10 adults identify as Christians — as did Andrew Jackson, who died in 1845, and Ronald Reagan, who died in 2004.
Mr. Saban, already immortalized in bronze outside Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, has won four national championships since he became the University of Alabama’s head football coach in 2007. But not even one of Alabama’s wildest races could propel him into an elected office with, some would say only half-kiddingly, less clout than his current job.
That almost certainly suits Mr. Saban, the highest paid public employee in Alabama, as well as policy wonks near and far. At a news conference in November 2016, Mr. Saban claimed he had not known the presidential election had been held a day earlier.
“I want what’s best for our country,” he said then. “I’m not sure I can figure that out.”
In the Senate election, Mr. Saban picked up at least 426 votes, far more than Gus Malzahn, the leader of the football program at rival Auburn University. But it is a virtual guarantee that Mr. Saban would prefer to have won this year’s Iron Bowl, which his then-top-ranked Crimson Tide lost to Auburn, 26-14.
“Not These Two”
Voters did not always rely on the creativity of Walt Disney or the stars of “Looney Tunes.” In Madison County, which includes Huntsville and is the states’s third most populous, voters had plenty of their own proposals for senator.
“A Better Choice” won a vote. “A Normal Republican, Please” got another. “Someone with Integrity” picked up a vote, as did “Robocall.” “Neither” managed four votes — the same tally that “No One,” “None,” “Nope” and “Not These Two” pulled together combined.
The public will have to guess about the “winners” of three Madison County votes that were “not listed due to graphic language.”
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