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After 20 Years, What It Would Take For A Democrat To Win An Alabama Senate Race


The Democrat who is running against Roy Moore in Alabama is former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones. And as we just heard, Jones does not have much of a chance of winning, though the race is closer than many people expected. That special election in Alabama is next week. The state hasn't sent a Democrat to the Senate in more than a quarter century. Here's NPR's Debbie Elliott.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Even in Alabama ZIP codes where Donald Trump dominated in 2016 you see campaign signs that say GOP for Jones. Attorney Andrea Powers is surprised to see so many Doug Jones signs in her suburban Birmingham neighborhood.

ANDREA POWERS: We see them in yards of people we know who are conservative Republicans.

ELLIOTT: Powers says she's one of them.

POWERS: In every presidential election since I was old enough to vote I have voted for the Republican candidate. And yet here I have absolutely no compunction about voting for Doug Jones.

ELLIOTT: She's troubled about the sexual assault allegations, but already had reservations about Moore's record. He was twice removed as chief justice for defying federal courts over a Ten Commandments monument and same-sex marriage.

POWERS: I don't believe in a theocracy. And Mr. Moore, ever how sincere he is in his beliefs, he has taken the position that his beliefs trump the U.S. Constitution.

ELLIOTT: The Democrat Jones has been running ads targeting Republicans, voicing his support for gun rights and promising to work across party lines. And he's got plenty of money to spend. Campaign finance reports show he's outraised Moore 5 to 1 since October.

SHERI RAGSDALE: The fact that Doug is getting national money is incredible.

ELLIOTT: Sheri Ragsdale was deputy campaign manager for another Democrat who ran a close race against Roy Moore for chief justice in 2012.

RAGSDALE: It tells that they're paying attention to Alabama. And normally they don't because our party is so broken.

ELLIOTT: Infighting has plagued the Alabama Democratic Party over a decades-long decline as Republicans rose to dominance here. Now Doug Jones is trying to piece together a coalition that welcomes disaffected Republicans like Andrea Powers but still appeals to traditional Democratic voters.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: December 12. December 12. We'll see you then.

DOUG JONES: I just need to put her, like, in a convertible and just ride around.

ELLIOTT: At a campaign stop in Tuskegee, home to Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Airmen, Doug Jones visited historically black Tuskegee University and toured local businesses in a push to engage African-American voters. Just as Republican Roy Moore has to turn out his white evangelical base, Doug Jones has to turn out black Democrats. Tuskegee Mayor Tony Haygood.

TONY HAYGOOD: We've got to get our folks to the polls. It's about who gets the most folks to the polls in this election.

ELLIOTT: 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. But that's not enough for Arthur Powell, who says for too long Democrats have taken voters like him for granted.

ARTHUR POWELL: So I'm supposed to go out and vote Democrat 'cause of Doug Jones? I don't know any more about Doug Jones than I do about Roy Moore.

ELLIOTT: Jones says he's focusing on what he calls kitchen table issues like education and health care that affect everyone regardless of race.

JONES: People are going to have a stark contrast in a choice of someone who has been talking to them about issues, about issues that they care about every day, or someone who has a sordid history - not only a personal history, but a professional history.

ELLIOTT: Even if Jones can turn out black voters and snag moderate Republicans frustrated with Roy Moore, he'll also need some independents to win in this deep red state. Birmingham independent Melinda Shallcross says she's with Jones in part because she fears how Moore will be treated in Washington.

MELINDA SHALLCROSS: 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, and he's going to be embarrassing.

ELLIOTT: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says if Moore wins the Senate ethics committee would handle the allegations. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Tuskegee, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.