How Does It Feel to Be a Doug Jones Supporter in Alabama?
There’s something different in the mood in Alabama, my home state,
surrounding the upcoming special U.S. Senate race, and not only because
of the allegations of sexual predation and abuse of teen-age girls surrounding the Republican candidate, Roy Moore, who denies the charges. The Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, a Birmingham-raised lawyer and a
former United States Attorney, who is the son and grandson of
steelworkers, initially seemed too much of a political outsider, an
unproved name, to resonate with many Alabamians. His much-cited claim to
Alabamian history—his successful prosecution of two Ku Klux Klan members
who orchestrated the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, which
killed four black girls, in 1963—was impressive, though, in a state where
familiarity and habit breed voting patterns, it was not enough to
energize potential voters. But, within a short amount of time, that
perception has changed.
Jones is now widely seen, by progressives, as a refreshing change from
corrupt state politics. (The former governor, Robert Bentley, resigned
in April, amid a sex scandal and after entering a plea agreement on
misdemeanor charges involving campaign contributions.) His civil-rights
achievements stand in stark relief to his opponent’s racist statements.
His established presence in Birmingham is reassuring. His campaign says
that it has attracted “thousands” of volunteers, made eight hundred
thousand phone calls, and knocked on a hundred thousand doors. Events,
including an appearance with Representative John Lewis, of Georgia, who
is known for his civil-rights work, have drawn hundreds of people, which is
unusual for either party. Most of the donations to the campaign between October 1st and November 22nd were for amounts
less than fifty dollars. People I know, and their friends, mostly millennials,
have taken time to canvas for Jones, moved by an urgency to stop Moore
from assuming the office, and by a sense that a liberal could finally
win a Senate seat in Alabama; the state has not had a Democratic senator
in twenty years. Polls have fluctuated in recent weeks: for a while,
Jones was ahead, and now, even though the Republican National Committee
is endorsing Moore in the final days before the race, the latest polls say that Jones still has a chance.
A college-age volunteer from the eastern shore of Alabama told me that
he got involved in Jones’s campaign, his first, because “so many people
are coming out of the woodwork. You’re seeing a lot of people who might
be considered moderates who weren’t really willing to wear their hearts
on their sleeves until the election of Trump, which forced them to
become more active.” He saw one of the biggest problems for Jones as
Moore’s motivated core base, which unfailingly showed up in local races
that suffered from low turnouts. Another young volunteer, who was
canvassing over the weekend at a public arts fair and door to door, in
the city of Daphne, told me that she was “inspired” by the reception.
“It’s been really refreshing to see how many people are actually aware
of the election,” she said. She had mostly met white families but had
also encountered some black ones—she said that most of the white
residents, and nearly all of the black residents, knew of Jones.
The Times, however, recently reported that African-Americans informally polled in the town of Selma appeared to be unaware of Jones’s candidacy. Among the Alabamians I spoke with,
both black and white, those who were college-educated knew more about
the special election than those who weren’t. A black field organizer for
the Jones campaign who is based in Montgomery, Akaninyene Ruffin, told
me that they had been “very deliberate” about going to the homes of
African-Americans and to historically black universities in the state.
“But a lot of people don’t know about the special election next
Tuesday,” she acknowledged. “Access to computers and the Internet and
cable TV is not as widespread as we would want to think.” Although the
campaign was not tailoring its message to black voters, another staffer
said that Jones was focussing on a message of “inclusiveness”—access to
affordable health care and education, improvements to the school system,
and enforcing voting rights. Jones has been visiting black churches to talk to parishioners. “He believes he can be a voice
of calm and a unifier,” the staffer said. Some observers from the state
wonder if the reasons behind the messaging are more complex—and if the
campaign’s seeming worry about alienating white voters might distract
from the fact that African-Americans make up the majority of Democratic
voters, and almost thirty per cent of voters in general, and that Jones
desperately needs their support.
And yet, despite all that, the election could hinge on the conservative
ideals that Moore still claims to represent, including in the matter of abortion; many of the state’s voters, across party lines, are pro-life.
Moore has played up his own intent to end women’s reproductive rights, saying that he wants to defund Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe v. Wade.
Meanwhile, stories have spread accusing Jones, who is pro-choice, of
supporting “full-term abortion,” a phrase invented by Moore’s wife,
Kayla. Jones has said in the past that he would not back any abortion
legislation that infringed on a woman’s right to choose, a statement
that Moore’s supporters have deliberately misconstrued.
Even if Jones does lose, all might not be lost for local Democrats, who
have a point to prove about the dormant progressive energy in Alabama.
For years, liberals have felt that the national Democratic Party
unwisely ignores the state when it comes to supporting local elections,
or to soliciting voters for Presidential ones. It may be that, even
without an alleged sexual predator in the race, a conservative monopoly
on the highest political offices doesn’t have to be a foregone
conclusion. Ruffin said that she had seen people who had never been
politically active become so, and that the “Democratic Party here has
been forced to create infrastructure we have never seen before.” She
added, “The momentum is making people realize that Alabama is worth
via New Yorker http://bit.ly/2v93nIt
December 6, 2017 at 03:44PM