ALABASTER, Ala. — Fresh off U.S. Sen. Doug Jones’ history-making upset over Republican Roy Moore, Alabama Democrats have found something they have lacked for a long time: hope.
Democrats have newfound optimism and energy heading into the 2018 elections after Jones became the first Alabama Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in a quarter century.
“Doug Jones has shown Alabama Democrats they can win again. There is more enthusiasm than I have seen in 20 years. It’s a fun and hopeful energy,” said Giles Perkins, Jones’ campaign chairman and a veteran Democratic player in Alabama.
The last two decades had been tough for Democrats in the Deep South, as the region gradually shifted toward Republican control. But Alabama Democrats say they are fielding some of their strongest contenders in years and hope that 2018 will continue their resurgence.
The Democratic gubernatorial candidates include Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, one of the last Democrats to win statewide in Alabama. Former Miss America Mallory Hagan is running for the state’s 3rd Congressional district.
At a packed January meeting of the Shelby County Democrats – a blue dot in what’s traditionally thought of as a heavily Republican county in Alabama – a candidate said it’s time to break the Republican lock on politics.
“I see the dysfunction coming out of Montgomery. It’s incompetence and it’s corruption and neither of them are acceptable,” Maddox said.
Both Maddox and Cobb have endorsed support for a state lottery, the issue that the state’s last Democratic governor, Don Siegelman, rode to victory in 1998. The former governor’s son, Joseph Siegelman, is running for attorney general as a Democrat, bringing another recognizable name to the field.
The head of the Alabama Republican Party argued Jones’ win was an anomaly.
“Alabamians are very deeply conservative people. The Doug Jones win, as I call it, is a one and done,” Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan said.
Moore, already a deeply polarizing figure because of his hardline stances and comments about gays and lesbians, was further wounded by allegations of sexual misconduct. He denied the allegations, but they drew enough negative attention to his campaign to help lift Jones to victory.
Jones also had money on his side, outspending Moore by a 2:1 margin to win the race by 1.6 percentage points.
With a weak Democratic Party, Jones’ campaign staff were on its own to create the databases that identified potential Jones voters that were later reached through an intensive “Get Out The Vote” effort.
The fracas surrounding Moore was just the tip of the scandalous iceberg for the GOP. Republican Gov. Robert Bentley resigned last year amid allegations of an extramarital affair with an aide. His resignation came as calls for impeachment accelerated. House Speaker Mike Hubbard, arguably the most powerful Republican in the state, was convicted on ethics charges in 2016.
Frannie James, a Democrat who volunteered with Jones’ campaign, had become used to voting for losing candidates. She said energy ripped through the room when Jones was declared the winner of the race.
“I started crying, hugging people. Yelling, hugging, crying,” she said.
She is now helping with the campaign of a Democratic congressional candidate.
“There is nothing better for the soul than winning. It had been a long time since Democrats had won anything at a statewide level that mattered,” Democratic pollster Zac McCrary said.