On Friday afternoon, Doug Jones, the Alabama Democrat running against the Republican Roy Moore for Jeff Sessions’s former senate seat, was stuck at home, snowed in by a light dusting in the Birmingham area, working on his “honey-do list.” The election is Tuesday. “It’s so unusual, this snow in December,” he told me over the phone, laughing. “Kind of like a Democrat in Alabama, right?” A Democrat seeking statewide office in Alabama is at a natural disadvantage, but Moore would seem to have his own obstacles to overcome. Among them: his removal not once but twice from the Alabama Supreme Court for ethics violations; his financial abuse of his own charitable foundation; his recent remark that things in America were better when slavery was law; his alleged history of pursuing and molesting teen-age girls.
Nonetheless, the betting markets currently give Moore a seventy-eight-per-cent chance of winning. (They gave Hillary Clinton an eighty-per-cent chance of victory last November.) Friday afternoon notwithstanding, Jones has been scurrying around his state in the final days of the campaign to avoid losing to an accused child molester. “I’d hoped to get down through the Black Belt today, ending up in Mobile late this afternoon for an event with some phone bankers and canvassers,” he said. “Tomorrow, I’ll try to get back into Selma, then Montgomery, then Birmingham, for a St. Paul and the Broken Bones concert tomorrow night.” On Sunday, Jones will attend an event with Cedric Richmond, of the Congressional Black Caucus. As for Monday, he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they keep me here in Birmingham—there are a lot of votes here. It’s my county, my home. They know me.”
Making sure that enough people know him is one of Jones’s larger hurdles as a candidate. The race has been almost entirely about Moore. “Most of the focus has been about him, for sure,” Jones acknowledged. “When I do radio and media, I try to talk about education and jobs. How I’m a hunter and I support the Second Amendment. I’m for strong military defense. How I did a lot as a prosecutor to protect communities in this state. But the media doesn’t always let us focus in on that. It’s ‘Well, Steve Bannon said this,’ or ‘Roy Moore said that.’ ” Jones added, “There are just so many things he’s done. You may as well put a blindfold on and throw a dart.”
Jones is perhaps best known for successfully prosecuting two former members of the Ku Klux Klan, in the late nineties. This does not appear to be enough to get a Democrat elected to the senate in Alabama, so Jones has been trying, of late, to relate to voters in other ways. His gun ownership, for instance, which radio ads point out. Jones wouldn’t say exactly how many he owns, though he described a wide variety. “I have an assortment of shotguns that I love to bird hunt with and turkey hunt with,” he said. “Rifles that we hunt deer with. Pistols that we go target shooting with. My youngest son and I enjoy hunting and just getting out at a range and shooting.” He went on, “We’ve got a fairly large collection of old military-style guns: a Springfield 1907 and a thirty-calibre carbine and a French MAS. We’ve got about four or five military guns that we’ll take out and shoot. A Browning semiautomatic. We kind of play with guns, and I enjoy it.” I asked Jones what he made of Moore’s fondness for open-carrying. “Somebody that gets out on stage and pulls out a little bitty gun?” he chuckled. “Let me tell you: Absolutely, I could out-shoot him. Maybe that’s the way to settle this, since he won’t debate me. Not in a duel, just target shooting with pistols, rifles, and shotguns.”
Jones was more buttoned-up when we talked about abortion, an issue that many voters in the state feel very strongly about. Jones never uttered the word “abortion” during our conversation, opting, instead, for “procedure” when I asked him to lay out his position, which Moore has portrayed, in TV ads, as “unforgivable.” “The current law is what I support,” Jones said. “Where it’s been muddied is my position on late-term procedures: I unequivocally do not support late-term procedures, except in the case of medical necessity.” He went on, “I think the extreme view on this issue is Roy Moore’s. He would criminalize it even in the case of rape, incest, even with the life of the mother in jeopardy.” Jones acknowledged that it was a tricky topic. “It’s always a challenge, talking about this issue, but I think we’ve met it. We’ll see what happens.”
As for going after Moore on the credible, on-the-record allegations of sexual misconduct and molestation levelled against him, Jones has been inclined to let those charges speak for themselves. “They came at a time when my schedule had been killing me for about two weeks,” he said. “I was just losing my voice. I was able to kind of rest a little bit, and not have to go out there all the time. I said to my team, ‘Look, let’s see how things go. We will certainly say that it’s disturbing and he needs to answer the allegations.’ That’s about all we did.”
The campaign has had the resources it needs to get its message out. While Moore runs what has been called a “ghost campaign,” with hardly any staff and very little paid media, Jones has blanketed the state with ads and signs. (If you were predicting the race based on yard signs, you would, from what I’ve seen, assume a Jones landslide.) More than one observer has noted the echoes of the Clinton-Trump matchup a year ago, in which the seemingly disorganized Trump campaign relied largely on free media coverage, much of it spurred by controversy.
A few ads have gotten Jones in trouble. “I don’t watch or see a lot of these things,” Jones said in his defense, referring particularly to ads created by Highway 31, a super PAC that produced a misleading ad about Moore that was ultimately removed from YouTube. Jones did acknowledge a mailer produced by his own campaign, which has come under scrutiny for asking how things would be different if Roy Moore were black. “Could we have made the mailer a little different?” Jones said. “Yes. But the message is accurate: there have been, and we’re continuing to work on, disparities in the criminal-justice system. And to deny that would be crazy. I worked as a prosecutor for a long time. And there’s disparities in the system. I know that. There’s a double standard.” He added, “Every campaign, you do what you think and move on when there’s a hiccup. I don’t think our hiccups have been anywhere near as bad as Roy’s.”