Democrats in Alabama these days are typically the ones who feel out of place. The state hasn’t endorsed a Democratic president since Jimmy Carter in 1976, and since Republicans took over the Legislature in 2010, more Democrats are feeling like small blue dots in an overwhelmingly red state.
But the Senate election Dec. 12, which pits an unpopular Republican in Roy Moore against a moderate Democrat in Doug Jones, has the underdogs feeling emboldened. Perhaps nowhere is this as evident as in midtown Mobile, where Jones campaign signs are as ubiquitous as historical markers on housing facades.
One street in particular, McPhillips Avenue between Dauphin and Brown streets, is lined with Jones signs, in some cases two to a yard. But in the middle of it all is a tidy cottage with an inviting front porch. Planted on the curb is an anomaly — a campaign sign for “Judge Roy Moore: U.S. Senate.”
It’s the home of Michael Mastro, a loyal Republican and member of the Mobile Republican Executive Committee who has lived on McPhillips Avenue with his wife, Melodie, for nearly two decades. He readily admits Moore isn’t the perfect candidate, but that won’t stop him from going to bat for the former judge in the election.
“My first choice was Rep. Mo Brooks,” Mastro said last week. “When it came down to Moore I was surprised, but I had met Judge Moore before … I was expecting this fire and brimstone guy, but he was nice, he was funny, just brilliant, really. I asked about the Ten Commandments issue and he gave me this explanation quoting the U.S. Constitution. The man knows more about the Constitution than anyone I know. And that is what I really think is going to turn D.C. and the Senate on its head.”
Mastro himself is an unlikely Republican. Semi-retired from the music and marketing industries with an interest in restoring and modifying old cars, he said he was “a real liberal” when he was younger, at one point even joining the Young Socialist Alliance.
“Getting into my 40s I started getting more conservative,” he recalled. “When I had a business and was paying taxes, I started looking at things different.
“I was sort of moving in [a more conservative] direction, questioning all those liberal/socialist ideals. One day I heard somebody say something that woke me up: ‘Anything the government gives away first has to be taken from someone else.’”
Across the street, McPhillips residents Tish Ellenberg and Ashley Watson have the opposite view. Ellenberg, owner of Elle Photography studio in downtown Mobile, mentioned she was preparing to host a phone bank for Doug Jones this Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 456 Dauphin St. Everyone is invited. They both expressed contempt with the Moore candidacy, particularly over social issues and his attitude toward the LGBT community.
“Frankly I’m scared,” Ellenberg said. “Scared the other half of this state really thinks the way Roy Moore speaks. He’s full of hate.”
With two Doug Jones signs in their yard and more on the porch, their neighbor’s support of Moore didn’t go unnoticed.
“When they put that sign up it was a big topic of conversation,” Watson noted. “Everybody on the street was kind of shocked … It’s like an automatic ‘you’re against me.’”
“I’ve heard a lot of people say they will not vote Democrat,” Ellenberg said. “But you’re supporting someone who is anti-everything [progressive] the new world is supposed to stand for and people are voting for him just because he’s Republican.”
Two other neighbors, Rose and Francis Johnson, live a few doors north. Decrying Moore’s moral compass and apparent lack of regard for the law, they said they will also be voting for Jones.
“I vote for who I feel like is going to serve me best,” Francis Johnson said. “I don’t like the way Roy Moore carries the banner of Christianity out front. I’ve been going to church all my life and the most genuine people I’ve ever met didn’t profess to have a line to God so quickly as he does. I just don’t think he’s sincere, nor anyone who uses Christianity for their personal gain … Christ’s message is to bring people together, not to drive people apart.”
Johnson said his opinion was formed before allegations of sexual misconduct rocked the Moore campaign last month. Moore has been on the Johnsons’ bad side since he was removed from the bench the first time.
“Plus the whole issue with the Ten Commandments — it was more grandstanding,” Rose Johnson added. “He’s the man who is going to be elected to uphold the laws of our government and he has flagrantly violated those laws several times.”
Francis noted he has voted for Republicans in past, including Bradley Byrne and Jeff Sessions.
“What I’ve seen is people vote against their own interest. It disturbs me people are so ill-informed,” Rose said, noting how small the statewide voter turnout has been during this campaign.
They also took note of Mastro’s Roy Moore sign.
“He can do what he wants,” Francis laughed. “But it seems the Republican platform begins at conception and ends at birth.”
Mastro said he supports Roy Moore because he is the candidate most likely to vote on Constitutional lines.
“We know most of the neighbors … it’s funny, my wife said we’ve probably been pretty much ostracized at this point. But in general reaching out to the other side is pretty futile. As far as our neighbors go, I’m a real friendly guy. I get along with anybody. I have lots of friends who have drastically different political views, but I can still be friends with them. Then again I’ve lost some friends over politics, so were we ever really friends to begin with?
“As far as putting the sign on my front lawn, it’s something I believe in and something I stand for. We knew knew we were going to piss some people off but they have a right to put their signs up and I have a right to put my sign up.”
Another McPhillips resident, Oscar Powell, said as an independent, neither Moore nor Jones can expect his vote.
“With these two parties, I don’t feel like we really have a choice,” he said. “Either way you vote, it’s just likely to swing the other way down the road.”
Typically, Powell said he tends to support centrist candidates, but with no one to choose from on Tuesday’s ballot, he will likely nominate one of his own.
“I’m going to vote,” he said. “I’ll probably write in one of my two cats.”