MONTGOMERY, Ala. (RNS) Roy Moore, forever known as Alabama's Ten Commandments judge, has been re-elected chief justice in a triumphant political resurrection after being ousted from that office nearly a decade ago.
Republican Moore defeated Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bob Vance, a Democrat, to win back his former office.
"It's clear the people have voted to return me to the office of chief justice," Moore said.
"I have no doubt this is a vindication. I look forward to being the next chief justice," Moore told a crowd of sign-waving supporters.
Moore thanked supporters at his party for sticking with him through what had been an up-and-down night that had Vance out to an early lead. Moore eventually won the race with 52 percent of the vote with 99 percent of precincts reporting.
"Go home with the knowledge that we are going to stand for the acknowledgment of God," Moore said to shouts of "Amen" from supporters.
Moore was elected chief justice in 2000, but a state judicial panel removed him three years later after he refused to obey a federal judge's order to remove a 5,200-pound granite Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the Alabama Judicial Building.
Moore still maintains the federal judge's order was unlawful and that he should not have followed it. But he has promised he will not return the Ten Commandments when he returns to the court. Moore said the issue was never about a monument but about the "acknowledgement of God."
Vance, 51 said he knew it was an "uphill battle" when he entered the race. Vance, the son of slain federal Judge Robert Vance, joined the race in August after Democrats disqualified their former candidate. In doing so, Vance agreed to mount an abbreviated campaign against the nationally known Moore.
"It looks like from the results that we have fallen short from where I hoped we would be. We did not quite arrive at the top of the mountain, but nevertheless let me say how proud I am of what we have been able to accomplish in the days since we entered this race," Vance said.
"We have gotten our message out effectively. We have competed against a very well-known opponent in a very red state, and we have fought down to the wire, and I am proud of our efforts in that regard."
Moore's supporters erupted in cheers after his win was announced.
"I think he shouldn't have been taken off the court to begin with. ... The people are going to return him," said Myron K. Allenstein, a Gadsden attorney.
A replica of the Ten Commandments tablets decorated the food table at Moore's party, but Allenstein, who knew Moore when he was a deputy district attorney, said he liked Moore for reasons beyond his famous stance.
"He's a good judge, a fair judge," he said.
Moore had teetered on the brink of political oblivion after two failed runs for governor. However, in the spring he harnessed his name recognition and grass-roots support to defeat two better-funded candidates and win the Republican primary for chief justice.
"It has to be regarded as a remarkable comeback," said political scientist Bill Stewart.
Natalie Davis, a pollster and political scientist at Birmingham-Southern College, said Moore benefited from high name recognition and a base of voters that associate him with the Ten Commandments.
"He benefits from straight-ticket Republican voting and he benefits that Alabama is one of the most religiously oriented states in the country," Stewart said.
Stewart said while some voters were turned off by Moore's defiance of a federal court order, others likely weren't.
"Defiance of the federal government, we know what a tradition that is in Alabama," Stewart said.
(Kim Chandler writes for The Birmingham News.)