Aided by scandal, Dems fighting math and history in Alabama

  • Doug Jones' campaign volunteer Dana Ellis, right, talks to Ebonique Jiles, top left, and her son, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017, in Birmingham, Ala., about voting on Tuesday's senatorial election, The Jones campaign is targeting African-Americans and moderate Republicans in particular as they fight to energize a coalition to defeat Republican Roy Moore. (AP Photo/Steve Peoples) Steve Peoples

  • Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks at a rally in Fairhope Ala., on Tuesday. AP

  • FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2017, file photo, Alabama U.S. Senatorial candidate Doug Jones talks with the media after touring the Northport Medical Center, in Northport, Ala. Alabama voters pick between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones on Tuesday. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP, File) Vasha Hunt

  • President Donald Trump points out an embattled Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore supporter as he speaks at a campaign-style rally at the Pensacola Bay Center, in Pensacola, Fla., Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Susan Walsh

Associated Press
Saturday, December 09, 2017

Renegade Republican Roy Moore may be plagued by scandal, but scandal alone will not convince the voters of 44th Place North to show up for Democrat Doug Jones.

In a state where Democrats are used to losing, malaise hangs over this quiet African-American neighborhood in suburban Birmingham, even three days before Alabama’s high-profile Senate contest. It is supposed to be a Democratic stronghold, yet the Jones campaign signs are hard to find.

“A lot of people don’t vote because they think their vote don’t count,” Ebonique Jiles, 27, said after promising a Jones volunteer she would support the Democrat in Tuesday’s election. “I’ll vote regardless of whether he wins or loses.”

With history and math working against them in deep-red Alabama, Democrats fought Saturday to energize a winning coalition of African-Americans and moderate Republicans – a delicate balancing act on full display as Jones and his network of volunteers canvassed the state. Moore, by contrast, held no public events, a familiar strategy as he bets big that the state’s strong Republican leanings will carry him to the Senate, despite his shortcomings.

During an appearance near the staging ground for Selma’s landmark “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march, Jones declared that Alabama has an opportunity to go “forward and not backward.”

“This campaign has the wind at its back because we are bringing people together from all across this state,” Jones said after a meeting at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church. “The other side is trying to divide us more than they bring people together.”

He was later joined by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, one of only two African-American Democrats in the Senate, who offered a warning to voters gathered at Alabama State University: “Bad people get elected when good people don’t vote.”

Saturday evening, Moore’s camp organized two get-out-the-vote concerts expected to draw overwhelmingly white voters – including some open-minded Republicans – in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate in more than a quarter century.

Moore got a big boost the night before in nearby Pensacola, Fla., where President Donald Trump encouraged voters to “get out and vote for Roy Moore.” Trump has also recorded a phone message on Moore’s behalf set to be distributed to Alabama voters on Monday, said White House spokesman Raj Shah.

The White House support comes even as the 70-year-old Moore faces multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, including allegations that he molested two teenage girls and pursued romantic relationships with several others while in his 30s. He has largely denied the allegations.

The explosive charges, which many Washington Republicans describe as credible, are giving Democrats a rare opportunity to pick up a Senate seat in the Deep South, where Republicans significantly outnumber Democrats. Even if Jones wins on Tuesday, many Democrats expect the GOP to re-claim the seat when the term expires at the end of 2020.

Beneath Jones’s biracial and bipartisan balancing act is a complex numbers game that has vexed Alabama Democrats for decades.

The party’s core of black voters and white liberals – plus a smidgen of old-guard, more conservative “Southern Democrats” who’ve held on amid the region’s partisan shift – is worth no more than 40 percent in statewide elections. That’s been true in high-turnout elections, with former President Barack Obama twice landing between 38 and 39 percent, and the most recent governor’s race in 2014, when the Democratic nominee pulled just 36 percent.

African-Americans make up about 25 percent of eligible voters, though Democratic pollster Zac McCrary said Jones needs black voters to comprise 27 percent or more of those who show up at the polls on Tuesday. Jones then needs to win one in three white voters in the state, which would require capturing about 15 percent of Republicans, McCrary said.