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Al Mohler: Alabama Evangelicals Considered Roy Moore 'Just a Bridge Too Far'

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler, in a suit, speaks on CNN

On CNN Wednesday morning, a major Southern Baptist leader argued that Roy Moore lost the Alabama Senate election because evangelicals could not vote for him. He also explained why this could be true, despite exit polls showing 80 percent of self-described evangelicals did vote for Moore.

"An incredible number of evangelical Christians said, this is just a bridge too far. We cannot turn out to vote for this candidate. They would not and could not vote for a pro-abortion candidate. They would not and could not, as it turned out, vote for Roy Moore. And into that vacuum came Doug Jones winning the election tonight," R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and host of The Briefing, told CNN's Don Lemon.

Lemon pointed out that Moore received 80 percent of the votes from self-identified "white evangelical Christians." Mohler pointed out, however, that white evangelicals only made up 44 percent of the vote, as opposed to the 47 percent in the 2008 and 2012 elections. That number was likely even higher in 2016, though exit polls on white evangelical turnout from last year are surprisingly hard to find. While 2 million people voted last November, only 1.3 million voted on Tuesday, and other groups turned out to vote at higher percentages.

"Well, [Moore] got 80% of what were identified as evangelicals in exit polling. That really doesn't take into consideration the fact that he lost because so many evangelicals didn't show up," Mohler explained. "Therefore, weren't in the exit polling. That's the big story. Given the percentage of evangelical voters in Alabama, it's virtually inconceivable that a candidate supported by evangelicals could lose. This candidate did, which meant he did not have solid support amongst evangelicals. That's the big story, especially in a state like Alabama."

The Alabama Senate race came down to turnout. African-Americans favored Jones by wide margins (96 percent to 4 percent for Moore), and made up 29 percent of the electorate. Women (51 percent of the vote) backed Jones (57 percent) over Moore (41 percent).

"The big story here," Mohler noted, was "the vacuum created by the fact that so many evangelicals did not turn out as expected and as the pattern would indicate."

The difficulty with this narrative, and polling in general, is that African-Americans are more likely (30 percent) than white Americans (13 percent) to hold evangelical beliefs. White evangelicals still outnumber black evangelicals in aggregate, but belief crosses the racial divide. Evangelical candidates like Roy Moore need to appeal across racial lines, but that may not be politically feasible.

Before the sexual assault allegations, Moore's support among evangelicals seemed legendary. This group heavily favored Moore in the primary, helping him to defeat Luther Strange. A full 53 pastors signed a letter backing Moore in August, but many of them distanced themselves from the candidate after the allegations broke last month.