Roy Moore is in trouble.
Last week’s Washington Post bombshell that included accusations the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice engaged in inappropriate conduct with four teenage girls decades ago changed the dynamic of next month’s special election for U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Jeff Sessions.
For now, politically it matters less as to whether the allegations will ever be proven and more about the cloud it has cast over Moore and his campaign.
No question, Moore has a very devout following. But all it would take is a fraction of this following to say, “I think I’m going to stay at home and sit this one out” for his Democratic Party opponent, Doug Jones, to have an opening to win.
If Jones is wise, he won’t personally have anything to do with trying to capitalize on those accusations. Instead, let others do the dirty work. There is a willing media and national Democratic Party apparatus to act on Jones’ behalf.
As this soap opera plays out with Moore over the coming weeks, Jones can run a campaign that focuses on what he has repeatedly referred to as “kitchen table issues.” It will give him the unique opportunity to be positioned as the state’s best advocate.
Wayne Flynt, professor emeritus in the Department of History at Auburn University, argues Jones should mimic Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and run as the outsider.
“There is a path,” Flynt told Lagniappe in an interview in October. “The path consists primarily, curiously enough, of Doug becoming the Donald Trump of Alabama in tactics — not ideology. He’s never held elected public office. That’s a plus. Therefore, he can run against Washington. That is a plus. He, unlike Trump, has a personal background that fits Alabama like a glove.”
That description of Jones goes back to his successful prosecution of two members of the Ku Klux Klan, Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry, for their roles in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. That, according to Flynt, will pay dividends for Jones on Election Day in turning out the black vote.
“That is because of the prosecution of the terrorists and also his active support of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute,” he said. “He has really had deep connections to African-Americans, and as you well know, the election will basically turn on two things. One will be general turnout, and the other will be turnout among African-Americans. And African-Americans generally don’t usually turn out enthusiastically for an Alabama white Democrat.”
Auburn University Emeritus Professor of Political Science Dr. Gerald Johnson, who has worked for the AEA as a pollster and is considered one of Alabama’s most prominent Democratic Party operatives, agrees with Flynt. He also sees Jones’ 16th Street Baptist Church heroics as something he should use to advance his campaign.
Johnson told Lagniappe if he were advising Jones, he would have him do an appearance with former President Barack Obama in Birmingham.
“I’d advise him to invite President Obama down to the 16th Street Baptist Church to hold a memorial, celebration and recognition of the role that Doug Jones played in that,” Johnson said. “And I know that runs contrary to conventional wisdom — the popularity of President Obama in the state — but in terms of black voter turnout, something like that would work. Something like that is probably needed for Doug Jones in terms of the absence of a large sum of money to wage an air war.”
While Jones’ campaign is about a celebration of his accomplishments, Moore will have to spend time, money and other resources on batting down sickening allegations, even if allegations are all that they are. And even this week, another accuser surfaced.
While no one was looking, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey set another special election on the same day as the Dec. 12 U.S. special election.
In Montgomery’s Senate District 26, a primary for the election for a seat previously held by Quinton Ross, who was approved to serve as the president of Alabama State University, was scheduled. Flynt says this could help Doug Jones’ cause, and also suggests it wasn’t an accident that Ivey planned the election for that day.
“Some things are really going to help him in that regard, most notably a highly contested Senate race in Montgomery on the day of [the special election],” Flynt said. “And of course, Kay Ivey said it was in order to save money, but one wonders if it is also her response to the Birmingham business establishment, which desperately wants Roy Moore to be defeated and will probably put a lot of money into Doug Jones’ campaign, privately. And Kay Ivey called that special election for a Montgomery district, citing economies of government, a great Republican theme, for the same day as the general election.
“And all of the candidates in that race are African-Americans, at least on the Democratic side,” he continued. “And African-American voters will really turn out. If Doug wins, he’s got to win big in Montgomery, Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville. And then he’s got to carry counties that are normally Republican counties, but where the detestation for Roy Moore is palpable, and I’m thinking counties like Tuscaloosa and Lee, or anywhere else there is a fairly well-educated business Republican establishment with high-tech business, new plants and things like that.”
Although it still seems that the odds are insurmountable for Jones to break the Democrats’ statewide losing streak and win next month, he has the wind at his back.
Should Democrats from beyond the Yellowhammer State come to Alabama to aid in this campaign? Flynt says no.
“I think the best thing the national Democratic Party can do is to stay out of the race,” he said. “And the other thing I think they can do is to ask some of their most influential and generous donors to individually contribute to Doug Jones’ campaign.”