On The Ground In Alabama, Democrats Fight For The Moral Core Of Their State
My Airbnb host in Pelham, Alabama made it clear she was not interested in politics when I told her I was in the state covering the upcoming U.S. Senate election, but she responded immediately when I mentioned that Roy Moore, the twice removed former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, was the Republican candidate.
“Roy Moore is the devil!”
Over the course of five days in Alabama, I became accustomed to that kind of reaction to Moore’s name.
Make no mistake?—?Moore can still win the U.S. Senate special election on Tuesday, December 12, but it will not be because of enthusiastic support on the ground.
According to recent polls, at least 42% of Alabama’s voters still support Moore, but nobody in the state wants their name attached to his.
I reached out to 11 Alabama Republican groups for this article. Only James Bennett, Chairman of the Calhoun County (AL) Republican Party, was willing to go on the record to defend Moore.
Bennett justified his defense of Moore as an attack on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the mainstream media, rather than unadulterated support for the Republican Senate nominee.
In the last month, Moore has faced multiple allegations of sexual assault, including an allegation that he initiated sexual contact with a 14-year old in 1979 when he was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney in Etowah County. He has avoided the campaign trail and spends most of his time in the public space attempting to discredit one of his many accusers on Twitter.
Good morning, Alabama! Day 17 of attorney Gloria Allred's refusal to turn over her fake yearbook for third party examination. #ALSen #DitchMitch
Yard signs for the Democratic nominee, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, outnumber Moore’s signs twenty to one in areas that range the political spectrum from Democratic strongholds like Jefferson and Montgomery County to areas that Donald Trump won handily in the 2016 election like Shelby and Lee County. (Trump explicitly endorsed Moore on Monday, December 4, via Twitter)
At the annual Iron Bowl game between Auburn and Alabama on Saturday, November 25, the Lee County Democratic Party hosted a tailgate event at Auburn University. About a dozen Democratic volunteers registered new voters and passed out water bottles to the thousands of people on campus for the game. Jones himself showed up to address organizers and thank them for their hard work.
Local Republicans and the Moore campaign did not participate in tailgate festivities.
Kelli Thompson, an organizer for the Lee County Democratic Party, said that Alabama Republicans are not going to publicly campaign for Moore at events like the Iron Bowl because they think he will win anyway.
“They feel that this election gets to be handed to them,” Thompson said. “As a Republican in Alabama, they think they’re gonna get it and they don’t have to work hard for it.”
Despite the lack of public support for Moore, Bennett said that Alabama Republicans are not ashamed of their nominee.
“Ever since the first story came out my phone has been bombarded with calls wanting Roy Moore yard signs and bumper stickers,” Bennett said. “I don’t know of anyone who has changed their mind.”
Bennett acknowledged the seriousness of the accusations against Moore but said that Republicans in his county are too skeptical of the mainstream media to take them at face value.
“The folks I have talked to are leery of the stories, they’re leery of the source,” Bennett said. “We obviously think the allegations are serious, but everybody is vetting Roy Moore and I haven’t heard many people that are vetting these people who made the accusations.”
Kay Ivey, the Republican Governor of Alabama, went a step further than Bennett and acknowledged in a Friday, Nov. 17 press briefing that she believes the women who have accused Moore of sexual assault but will still support him over Jones.
“I will cast my ballot on December the 12, and I do believe the nominee of the party is the one I’ll vote for,” Ivey said.
Moore has been content to let Republican officials defend him, while largely avoiding the campaign trail. One theory for Moore’s shadow campaign is that he does not want to embolden more accusers to come forward.
The Democratic Party leader in Moore’s home county said rumors about the former judge’s predatory behavior have been discussed in Etowah County for decades.
“My whole adult life so many people knew creepy Roy Moore stories,” said Etowah County Democratic Chairwoman Ann Green. “Every time Roy Moore was in the news or ran for office again, at any social gathering, [the stories] would be the conversation.”
Green could not confirm a recent report that Moore was banned from the local YMCA, but said it has been a longstanding rumor in Etowah County.
“I don’t think he was banned, but he was certainly cautioned about his aggressive behavior with the high school girls, as it was put to me,” Green said.
Alabama Democrats want to convey to the rest of the country that this election is about more than Roy Moore. They think that Jones is an excellent candidate on his own merits.
Organizers on the ground in Birmingham, AL, speak highly of Jones’ signature accomplishment: Prosecuting two members of the Ku Klux Klan who orchestrated the bombing at 16th Street Baptist Church.
Most organizers said that Jones has been an active member of the community for years and they were aware of him well before he launched his Senate campaign.
I may have the honor of serving Alabama as your senator, but the most important thing I have done is prosecuting those klansmen who killed 4 little girls at 16th St Baptist Church. https://t.co/b2CkvVdA0h
On November 26, a breezy Sunday morning, Birmingham Indivisible members met near Birmingham’s Eastwood neighborhood to canvass and discuss other ways to raise awareness for the upcoming election.
Some members walked the neighborhood knocking on doors. Most of the houses in the neighborhood already had signs supporting Jones.
Lindsey Morris, an organizer of the canvass, broke away from the other canvassers to meet fellow Birmingham Indivisible volunteer Christina Bullock at a local coffee shop. Bullock was writing postcards with encouraging messages to prospective voters.
“Doug Jones is someone to be proud of,” Bullock wrote on a postcard. An important distinction in an election that includes Moore.
Bullock said Alabama Democrats are highly energized, unlike in past elections.
“People are stepping out in a way they never felt comfortable before,” Bullock said. “Whatever happens in this election, we’ll still have done some great work.”
Morris explained that even before the allegations against Moore became public, Alabamians had grown tired of the corruption that accompanies one-party rule.
In the last two years, former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, former Alabama House Speaker Michael Hubbard, and Moore have all resigned or been removed from elected office. Morris referred to them as “Alabama’s triumvirate of bad people.”
Morris said electing Moore will also hurt Alabama’s economy.
“Companies that want to come here are not going to come here if that’s the representation of what Alabama is,” said Morris.
Nancy Worley, Chairwoman of the Alabama Democratic Party, emphasized that Alabamians should elect somebody they can be proud of.
“If people want a candidate that’s going to be a good representative for them and a person who is going to be a builder between the two sides, someone who can work with both Democrats and Republicans, then I believe that they’re going to vote for Doug Jones,” said Worley.
The chairwoman said that sending Moore to the Senate will embolden his worst impulses.
“He has certainly done some embarrassing things in Alabama,” Worley said. “I can’t see the leopard changing his spots when he gets to Washington.