Democrat and former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones will compete with former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions after President Trump appointed him attorney general.
Jones has been gaining momentum in the deep-red state in recent weeks. Bolstered by a recent visit from former Vice President Joe Biden, he has also been creeping up in the polls, in some trailing Moore by single digits instead of double—an impressive feat for a Democrat in Alabama. Additionally, four women have come forward alleging that Moore sexually harassed or assaulted them while they were teenagers, claims that could be potentially devastating for the former judge’s campaign.
On the heels of a big win in Virginia, the unexpectedly competitive race in Alabama has Democrats wondering if this special election could afford them a rare odd-year opportunity to slim down the opposition’s majority. Republicans have had a 52-48 majority since the 2016 elections, and dissent from GOP senators has already killed a number of pivotal bills. A one-seat majority for Republicans would mean that frequent mavericks like John McCain and Rand Paul could stop legislation without any help from their colleagues.
But in a state where Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 28 percent, Jones’ battle to win the Senate seat could be characterized as uphill, at best.
Here’s what you need to know about Doug Jones:
1. A Native Alabamian, Jones Is a Former U.S. Attorney Who Is Currently in Private Practice
Born in Fairfield, Alabama, in 1954, Jones father was a steelworker and his mother a stay-at-home mo, and Jones himself worked in the steel mills between school terms as a young man.
He attended Fairfield High School during the state’s desegregation of public schools and went on to study political science at the University of Alabama, graduating in 1976. In 1979, he earned a juris doctor from Samford University, Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama, and entered public service immediately thereafter.
From 1979 to 1980, he worked as a staff counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, and from 1980 to 1984, he served as the assistant United States attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.
Jones then left the public sector for a private practice law firm, where he stayed until 1997 when President Bill Clinton nominated him to return to the Department of Justice outpost in Alabama’s Northern District and serve as a U.S. attorney. After four years on the job, he returned to private practice, and is currently a shareholder at Jones & Hawley, PC, a Birmingham law firm he co-founded.
2. If Elected, He Would Be the First Democratic Senator From Alabama in 2 Decades
The last Democrat to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate was Howard Heflin, who served from 1979 until 1997. In fact, Heflin was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Jones worked as a staff counsel from 1979 to 1980.
When Heflin declined to run for re-election in 1996, Republican Jeff Sessions won the seat by a 7 point margin—the same seat for which Jones is currently campaigning.
Though Republicans have dominated Alabama’s Congressional delegation for the past few decades, prior to the election of Jeremiah Denton, Jr. in 1981, Alabama had not had a Republican senator in Washington since 1879.
3. Jones Made a Name for Himself as U.S. Attorney Prosecuting KKK Members Over a Cold-Case Church Bombing
On his campaign website, Jones recalls cutting class during his second year of law school so he could go watch Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley prosecute a member of the Ku Klux Klan who bombed an African-American church 14 years prior, killing four children and wounding four others. The tragedy is believed to have helped fuel the civil rights movement that swept the nation in the 1960s.
“That was 1977 – the first time I saw real, inspiring change in the cards for Alabama,” writes Jones. Four Klansmen were involved in the bombing, but only one was convicted. The case was reopened in 1980 and 1988, but those investigations did not result in any indictments.
Two decades later, after he was appointed U.S. attorney, Jones re-opened the case and charged two of the remaining three men with first-degree murder; the third was already deceased. Both men were ultimately convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
“It took a long time for Birmingham to come to grips with the fact that liberty and justice is really for all,” said Jones at the time of the convictions.
4. When Asked Questions About President Trump, He Tends to Sidestep
Doug Jones may be a Democrat, but he still shares some political beliefs with his commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump. Jones has referred to himself as a “Second Amendment guy, and he told AL.com that he would vote for healthcare legislation that gave states more freedom to create their own systems in exchange for restoring federal subsidies.
However, the former U.S. attorney has been loathe to speak about the controversial president directly. “It doesn’t really matter what my view is,” he said. “My view is going to be taking every issue step by step, because he is the president.” he said.
Regardless, he has taken sly jabs at the president in campaign materials—”With Trump’s appointees resigning or being battered by his own Tweets, names like Sam Clovis and Ryan Zinke don’t make the nightly news,” he said in an ad.
A week after Trump’s widely criticized comments after an alt-right sympathizer drove a van through a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia, Jones said that local governments should decide the fate of Confederate statues around the country. He called it “an economic issue,” angering some Democrats who believe all Confederate statues should be removed.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is less hesitant to give his two cents on the current president, also recently visited Jones’ on the campaign trail. “I can count on two hands the people I’ve campaigned for that have as much integrity, as much courage,” said Biden after appearing with Jones at a campaign rally in early October.
Biden has issued numerous criticisms of Trump; at an event last month, he called the president a “charlatan,” asserted that “he doesn’t understand governance” and referred to his style of diplomacy as “utterly bizarre.”
5. To Appeal to Voters in the Deep Red State, He Has Had to Distance Himself From the National Democratic Party
Jones has received very little direct support from national Democrats, despite the fact that he is running for federal office. Only a third of Alabama’s voters are Democrats, which means in order to win, Jones has to win over a large portion of Republican voters in the deep South state, which Trump won in 2016 by a 28 percent margin.
Biden is believed to have been selected to stump for Jones due to his bipartisan appeal. “Biden might be one of the handful of Democrats who can come in and speak to both audiences,” said Zac McCrary, former communications director for the Alabama Democratic Party.
But not all of Jones’ supporters were appreciative of the vice president’s visit. At a campaign event, a 72-year-old retired lawyer told Jones that his centrist Republican friend had decided not to vote for him due to Biden’s visit. “He asked me to deliver the message: Please don’t bring any more national Democrats to Alabama,” said the lawyer.
“If they spend money on television ads in a big way, that will attract Republicans to spend big money and then it becomes a national race about ‘do you like Republicans or do you like Democrats?” remarked the editor of the nonpartisan Inside Politics, Nathan Gonzales.
McCrary told Politico that Jones also risked alienating white suburban voters if he courted the African-American vote by taking a hard stance against white supremacy and the Trump administration’s handling of the NFL protests.
“There are some factors where the Jones campaign can really capture the natural Democratic energy against Trump with Moore as an accelerant, without getting too close to the line that has the potential to boomerang for white voters,” said McCrary.