Can Democrat Doug Jones replace Jeff Sessions in Alabama?

The Alabama special election to replace now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the United States Senate is shaping up to be one of the most terrifying in modern American history. The current frontrunner is Roy Moore, a right-wing extremist who was removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for ignoring a federal court order and later suspended for ordering all Alabama probate judges to violate the United States Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision. He also led an effort to hold a constitutional convention to ban marriage equality, has appeared multiple times on a radio show with a pastor that has advocated for the death of gay people, in which he refused to refute the pastor, claims that “there are communities under Sharia law right now,” and supports Donald Trump’s transgender military ban.

And that barely skims the surface. Alabamian reporter Kyle Whitmire covered Moore’s extremism in more detail in this video:

Moore is challenging incumbent Republican Luther Strange, who was appointed to Sessions’ Senate seat by former Alabama Governor Robert J. Bentley, who was forced to resign in April amid a sex scandal that revealed violations of both ethics and campaign finance laws. Moore is currently leading Strange by double digits in almost all polls, and rather than offering a more moderate alternative to Moore, Strange is attacking Moore from the right, an astounding feat, even for a cynical Republican backed by Mitch McConnell.

And then there’s the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones. Jones is a former United States Attorney who gained prominence for prosecuting the remaining two Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing case. Jones identifies as a child of the civil rights movement. On his campaign website, he wrote: “As I came of age in the 60s and 70s, my belief in civil rights and equal protections for everyone came from my experiences growing up during the era of the desegregation of Alabama’s public schools.”

This stands in stark contrast to both GOP candidates as well as former seatholder Jeff Sessions, who has been fighting against voting rights and desegregation since he entered public service. Jones also supports reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and equal pay for equal work, demonstrating a rare public dedication to justice and equality in a deep red state and even deeper red race.

Jones’ other central focuses are the economy, education, the environment, and healthcare. While he is far from the progressive populist desired by the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, Jones is still quite progressive for an Alabamian Senate candidate. He doesn’t support a single-payer healthcare system, but he does advocate for a public option, which is similar to the plan Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) is working on as a “transition to a single-payer system without a massive political fight.” Jones hasn’t endorsed a $15 minimum wage, but he says the minimum wage should be over $10. He doesn’t support tuition-free public college, but he does “support a program of public service in exchange for reduced college costs and full funding of Pell grants for students and additional research funding in the sciences and arts for the colleges themselves.”

However, Jones’ refusal to go all-in on progressive policies has not sparked the intraparty conflict that has plagued Democrats since the 2016 presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The reason? Few have faith that Jones can win. And there’s good reason to be skeptical that the man elected to replace Jeff Sessions could ever be a Democrat. Not a single Democrat currently holds statewide office in Alabama. The last time a Democrat was elected to the United States Senate in Alabama was 1992, and just two years later he became a Republican. Jones has said that he is campaigning for “Howell Heflin’s seat.” Howell Heflin, a Democrat, won his final election to the Senate in 1990, only to be replaced by Jeff Sessions in 1996. Heflin’s seat arguably no longer exists.

Moreover, Moore received almost as many votes in the Republican primary of 10 candidates as the eight Democratic primary candidates received altogether. Both the past and the present don’t exactly feel inspirational to most Democrats.

Jones is currently polling behind both Moore and Strange in the general election, albeit by only single digits with over 15% undecided, as opposed to Jeff Sessions’ increasingly large majority victories since 1996, concluding with a 63.36% victory in 2008 and an uncontested win in 2014.

Some Democrats cynically hope that Moore defeats Strange in the runoff, presumably resulting in a Democratic Senate victory similar to that of Claire McCaskill’s in 2012, where the Democrat won Missouri, a state that went to Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by 9.4 points in some part due to the flaws of her opponent, Todd Akin, who gained notoriety for his wildly offensive “legitimate rape” comments. (McCaskill is set to lose re-election in 2018, polling solidly behind Republican challengers in a state that went to Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 18.63 points.) This is the same logic behind many Democrats who rooted for Trump to win the Republican nomination, and look where that got us.

Ultimately though, it’s impossible to confidently predict a race with a leading candidate as volatile as Roy Moore. Ideally, Alabamians would be overwhelmingly turned off by Moore’s unashamed extremism, but given that a majority of Alabama voters sent Jeff Session to Washington four times, that seems unlikely.

You can help boost Doug Jones’ underfunded campaign by donating here. Even if it’s a long shot, this seat is still worth fighting for. Let’s ensure that Jeff Sessions’ successor isn’t even more extreme than Jeff Sessions.

Jordan Valerie is the Head Writer and Editor-in-Chief at Millennial Politics. She is also a cinephile, social justice advocate, and proud queer woman of color. You can pay her at paypal.me/jordanvalallen and find her on Twitter @jordanvalallen.
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