BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Democrat Doug Jones won the hotly contested U.S. Senate race in Alabama against Republican Roy Moore Tuesday night. Jones delivered a victory speech, telling supporters "We have shown not just around the state of Alabama, but we have shown the country the way that we can be unified."
For his part, Moore refused to concede defeat, saying "It's not over... We know that God is still in control."
Totals early Wednesday morning showed Jones with 49.9% of the vote, with Moore at 48.4%. The margin separating the candidates was a little more than 20,000 votes with 99% of precincts reporting.
At the center of the special election was the fiery Christian conservative Moore -- "Judge Moore" to his supporters. The 70-year-old Republican was twice ousted as state Supreme Court chief justice after flouting federal law. This year he attempted a political resurrection against party officials horrified by accusations that he was guilty of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
In Moore's path stood Democrat Jones, 63, a former U.S. attorney best known for prosecuting two Ku Klux Klansmen who killed four black girls in Birmingham's infamous 1963 church bombing. He becomes the first Democrat in a quarter century to win an Alabama Senate seat.
The election renewed lingering tension between President Donald Trump, who backed Moore in the campaign's final days, and the Republicans who control Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chief among them, who called for Moore to abandon the campaign and promised an ethics investigation if he had been elected.
Jones will take over the seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions through 2020.
The loss of one seat alone will not change the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans now hold a 51-49 majority, but the loss will make it harder for Trump to push legislation through a bitterly divided Congress. The GOP loss also gives Democrats a clearer path to a Senate majority in 2018 -- albeit a narrow one -- in an election cycle where Democrats are far more optimistic about seizing control of the House of Representatives.
Jones fought to cobble together an unlikely coalition of African-Americans, liberal whites and moderate Republicans.
"This is an important time in Alabama's history, and we feel very confident where we are and how this is going to turn out," the Democrat said after casting his ballot Tuesday.
Moore, who largely avoided public events in the final weeks of the race and spent far less money on advertising than his opponent, was counting on the state's traditional Republican leanings and the strength of his passionate evangelical Christian supporters.
Moore sidestepped questions about sexual misconduct as he arrived at his polling place on horseback.
Democrats were not supposed to have a chance in Alabama, one of the most Republican-leaning states in the nation.
Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton here by nearly 28 points just 13 months ago. Yet Moore had political baggage that repelled some moderate Republicans even before allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.
Virtually the entire Republican establishment, Trump included, supported Moore's primary opponent, Sen. Luther Strange in September. Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was one of the only early high-profile Moore backers.
Moore was removed from his position as state Supreme Court chief justice the first time after he refused to remove a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument at the state court building. The second time, he was permanently suspended for urging state probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The Associated Press contributed to this report