Even in Alabama ZIP codes where Donald Trump dominated in 2016, there are lots of campaign signs that say “GOP for Jones.” That is Doug Jones, the Democrat opposing Republican candidate Roy Moore in next week’s special election for the U.S. Senate.
“We see them in yards of people we know who are conservative Republicans,” says attorney Andrea Powers, who lives in suburban Birmingham.
Describing herself as a Reagan Republican, she plans to break party lines in the Senate race.
“In every presidential election since I was old enough to vote, I have voted for the Republican candidate,” says Powers. “Yet here, I have absolutely no compunction about voting for Doug Jones.”
The controversy over Moore’s candidacy has given Democrats a rare opportunity in a state that hasn’t been represented by a Democrat in the Senate in more than 20 years.
Jones is trying to use that opening to piece together a coalition that welcomes disaffected Republicans but still appeals to traditional Democratic voters.
Powers says she is troubled by the allegations that Moore molested and sexually assaulted teen girls decades ago. She already had reservations about Moore’s record.
Moore, a conservative Christian, was twice removed as the chief justice of the state Supreme Court for defying federal courts: once over a monument of the Ten Commandments, which Moore installed in the state judicial building, and once for refusing to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s order legalizing same-sex marriage.
“I don’t believe in a theocracy,” Powers says. “[However] sincere he is in his beliefs, he has taken the position that his beliefs trump the U.S. Constitution.”
Jones has been running ads targeting Republicans — voicing his support for gun rights and promising to work across party lines. And he has plenty of money to spend on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts. Campaign finance reports show he has outraised Moore 5 to 1 since October.
“The fact that Doug is getting national money is incredible,” says Sherri Ragsdale, deputy campaign manager for Democrat Bob Vance who ran a close race against Roy Moore for chief justice in 2012.
“It tells that they’re paying attention to Alabama, and normally, they don’t because our party is so broken,” says Ragsdale.
Infighting has plagued the Alabama Democratic Party over a decades-long decline as Republicans rose to dominance here. The state hasn’t sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in more than a quarter century.
Outside the Macon County Courthouse in Tuskegee, Dr. Elaine Harrington chants “December 12th!” She is reminding people of Election Day during a Doug Jones campaign stop. Jones suggests he needs to find a convertible for her to ride around town with a bullhorn.
Jones is on a push to engage African-American voters — with visits to places that have historical resonance, like Selma and Tuskegee, which was once home to Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and the Tuskegee Airmen.
“I’m not going to take anything for granted,” he says, asking Harrington to keep spreading the word.
Just as Moore has to turn out his white evangelical base, Jones has to turn out black Democrats.
“We got to get our folks to the polls,” says Tuskegee Mayor Tony Haygood. “It’s about who gets the most folks to the polls in this election.”
Part of Jones’ appeal is that he won convictions decades later against the Ku Klux Klan church bombers who killed four black girls during the civil rights movement.
Harrington says that carries weight.
“When he prosecuted the KKK when they bombed that church in Birmingham, Ala. — that’s strong on crime,” she says. “The president has it all mixed up.”
President Trump has bashed Jones on Twitter as being soft on crime and bad for the Republican agenda.
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing case isn’t enough to sway Arthur Powell, who says that for too long, Democrats have taken voters like him for granted.
“So I’m supposed to go out and vote Democrat because of Doug Jones?” he asks. “I don’t know any more about Doug Jones than I do Roy Moore.”
Jones says he is focusing on issues like education and health care that affect everyone regardless of race.
“People are going to have a stark contrast and a choice,” Jones says. “Someone who has been talking to them about issues, about issues they care about every day, or someone who has a sordid history — not only a personal history but a professional history.” Jones has been burying voters in TV ads, including one featuring the names and faces of Moore’s accusers.
Even if Jones can turn out black voters and snag moderate Republicans frustrated with Moore, he’ll also need some independents to win in this deep red state.
Birmingham independent Melinda Shallcross says she is with Jones in part because she fears how Moore will be treated in Washington.
“I think he’s going to be stuck in a corner and they’re going to put a dunce cap on his head and we’re going to get nothing out of him the entire time he’s there,” says Shallcross. “He’s going to be embarrassing.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says that if Moore wins, the Senate Ethics Committee would handle the allegations.
“Mitch needs to shut up,” says Republican voter J.W. Knight, a Tuskegee police officer. He says the national GOP needs to stay out of Alabama’s politics.
“We fought a war for that in the 1860s,” he says. “Also for slavery and other reasons, but one of them was to keep the federal government out of our back pocket. They want to legislate everything and Alabama is just not going to put up with it.”
Moore is expected to get a boost at a rally Tuesday night in southern Alabama a week away from the election that will feature McConnell nemesis and former White House adviser Steve Bannon.