Alabama senate race: Democrat Doug Jones relying on black voter turnout to give Trump a bloody nose in Alabama

Mr Jones trails Roy Moore by less than four points

Andrew Buncombe
Birmingham, Alabama
Monday 11 December 2017 17:43
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Mr Jones must persuade black voters to come out for him if he is to win
Mr Jones must persuade black voters to come out for him if he is to win

Doug Jones, the Democrat looking to defeat Roy Moore and deliver a humiliating rebuke to Donald Trump, is working frantically to persuade African Americans in Alabama - the demographic on which his success most crucially depends - to turn out and vote for him.

With polls opening on Tuesday for Alabama residents to select a senator to represent them in Washington, Mr Jones has been holding rallies with high-profile black politicians such as senator Cory Brooker, former former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and congresswoman Terri Sewell. He has also been reminding voters of his role in prosecuting the white supremacists responsible for one of the most notorious crimes of the civil rights era.

With an average of polls showing the Democrat trailing Mr Moore by perhaps less than four points, Mr Jones over the weekend attended a rally in the city of Selma, speaking in front of the church where Rev Martin Luther King and other began the 1965 march to Montgomery that helped secure the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Mr Jones has been campaigning with African American politicians

“I’m here to try and help some folk get woke,” said Mr Booker, from New Jersey. “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

Meanwhile, Matthew Knowles, the father of Beyonce and an Alabama native told a group of voters at a prayer breakfast: “We’re not just voting for a person or voting for a party, we’re voting for the perception of Alabama.”

On Monday night, the eve of the ballot, Mr Jones will hold a final rally in Birmingham, the city in which he had spent much of his life.

It is nothing short of astonishing that it has come to this. The deeply conservative state of Alabama has not elected a Democratic senator since 1986, and that person, Richard Shelby, subsequently defected to the Republicans and still holds the seat. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Republicans appeared to be looking for another easy victory after former judge Mr Moore beat Luther Strange in the Republican primary for the seat in September. While Mr Moore, who has been backed by Steve Bannon and other conservatives, has long been controversial outside of Alabama, inside the state he has a loyal following of conservative evangelicals who literally believe he is doing God’s work.

Roy Moore blames his sexual misconduct allegations on LGBT people

Then on November 9, the Washington Post started publishing a series of reports that included allegations that Mr Moore - then aged 30 - had harassed and otherwise acted inappropriately with a series of girls and young women, some as young as 14, when he was working as a local prosecutor.

Mr Moore has adamantly denied the accusations and accused the media of conspiring with the Democrats. Yet the reports, and the testimony of numerous women, saw his polling numbers fall by a couple of points and those of Mr Jones jump from 42 to 46.

Most observers believe Mr Moore will probably pull through. Having initially remained silent, Mr Trump, who is very popular in the state and who originally backed Mr Strange, has endorsed Mr Moore, as has the Republican National Committee.

Mr Trump has gone as far as recording a phone message, which is being rolled out by the Moore campaign. The “robo-call” to potential voters includes Mr Trump's voice telling voters that if they do not support the Republican candidate, progress on his agenda will be “stopped cold.” Democrats have subsequently released their own calls involving former President barack Obama, and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Several issues will likely prove crucial to the election race. The allegations levelled at Mr Moore have disgusted many Republicans and a number have said they will vote for a “write in candidate” rather than the former judge by writing the name of another Republican on the ballot paper. Mr Shelby is among those who have indicated that is his plan.

What remains unclear is whether sufficient Republicans in Alabama, where 49 per cent of adults identity as evangelical Christian, will feel so strongly they would vote for a Democrat and risk reducing the senate majority to 51-49, rather than simply decide not to vote for anyone.

Mr Jones is targeting the state’s so-called black belt, which includes urban areas located in the middle of Alabama and include Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma. Around 25 per cent of voters are African American.

“He has shared a platform of interests for everyone,” said Darryl Lee, 58, a pastor, who was walking through the city’s historic district told The Independent. “Roy Moore is more in it for himself.”

Melvin Griffen, who like Mr Lee was African American, said he felt Mr Jones’ views were closer to his and he said he had shown the courage of prosecuting the church bombers. He also said that voter turnout would likely be the determining factor.

“It’s a hard red state,” he said. “Right now, it’s a toss.”

Mr Jones’ campaign has been bombarding people with political adverts highlighting his role as a prosecutor who reopened the investigation into the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four young girls - 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley.

In 1977, the ringleader of the Ku Klux Klan gang that carried out the atrocity, Robert “Dynamite Bob” Chambliss, was convicted. Then the pursuit of the other people involved went quiet.

Two decades later, when Mr Jones was the US attorney for Alabama, he reopened the case and brought charges against against two more Klan members, Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr, and Bobby Frank Cherry. Blanton was convicted in 2001 and Cherry was convicted the following year.

Cherry died in prison in 2004, while Blanton, 79, remains behind bars. In the summer of 2016, a parole board refused to grant him an early release.

Despite all of this, it remains unclear whether Mr Jones will be able to get out the vote in big enough numbers to overcome Mr Moore’ support, which is particularly strong in rural areas.

“That’s the $64,000 question,” Danny Ransom, the vice chair of the Civil Rights Activist Committee, told NBC News. “There doesn't appear to be a lot of enthusiasm.”

Larry Powell, a professor of communication studies at the University of Alabama, told the Birmingham Times that Mr Jones cannot win without the black vote. Yet he added that “the race is definitely winnable [for Jones]”.

“This is a candidate black voters should be able to back,” said Mr Powell. “He has a commendable track record worthy of their support.”

Outside of a Doug Jones campaign office on 4th Ave, Judi King, a volunteer, was preparing to hit the streets and bang on doors in the city’s Bessemer neighbourhood.

“This is our chance to show that not everyone in the state is hateful,” she said. “I really do feel this election is a chance to show the world.”

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