Doug Jones and Roy Moore = Slow Political Change in Alabama?

Nov 12, 2017

It was a weekend of denials following reports in the Washington Post about Roy Moore. The paper quotes four women from Alabama who say the Republican candidate pursued them sexually when they were teenagers. One of these women was just fourteen years old at the time and Moore was thirty two. Supporters of the twice-removed Alabama Chief Justice are lining up behind while GOP leaders in Washington are keeping their distance. Other observers are watching something else in Moore’s race against Democrat Doug Jones for Alabama’s junior U.S. Senate seat. APR’s Pat Duggins reports they’re seeing small signs of political change in this conservative state…

“I just…I’m hoping for the best," says Bill Eubanks from Pinson. He’s also a voter with something specific in mind… “That we’ll get someone in office who is honest and reputable and will do the right thing regardless of their personal motivations.”

Eubanks is talking about the race for Alabama’s junior U.S. Senate seat. And, considering the events of the past few days, what he’s looking for may seem a little more difficult. Like any general election race, it’s a tale of two candidates.

“They told me in 1997 when I became U.S. Attorney that prosecuting a case that was almost forty years old was a long shot," says Democrat Doug Jones. His message appears to be Alabama, warts and all, can be better “But you know what?When you’re on the right side of history and the right side of justice, you can do anything!”

And for the Republicans…

“Well, we’re in Alabama," says Roy Moore. "And in Alabama for the rest of the world to hear, we dare defend our rights, we don’t stop kicking.”

Former Chief Justice Roy Moore's heavily Christian message appears to be Alabama is okay as it is…

“We’ve got to go back to God. We’ve got to back to a moral base" he says

And it’s not just voters like Bill Eubanks who are looking for answers in this race for U.S. Senate. Others are watching how the race between Roy Moore and Doug Jones represents change in Alabama—just not quick change…

“When people think about public opinion change, they have this conversion image like people go to bed thinking one way, and they wake up one way completely differently," says Dr. Steve Borrelli. He teaches Southern political science at the University of Alabama.

“Most…you know…large scale movements in public opinion don’t work that way," he says.

Doug Jones progressive message appears to be holding its own against Roy Moore’s conservative Christian one. A poll taken on Friday by Decision Desk and Opinion Saavy puts the race in a dead heat. A survey released just yesterday by JMC Analytics and Polling gives Jones a four point lead. Both Jones and Moore are born and bred Alabamians. Jones is from Birmingham and Moore is Gadsden. And, they’re only seven years apart in age. Moore is seventy and Jones is sixty three. Despite that slight age difference, Borrelli says Jones reflects growing up in the turbulent civil rights era in the 1960’s…

“I think what Doug Jones has done that, is take that traditional defensiveness…like we’re not as bad as we’re being made to seem," Borrelli says. "And couple it with a more progressive argument for genuine change.”

Borelli says that reflects a time in the 1970’s and 80’s when political power in Alabama was more evenly split. However, GOP reactions in Alabama following the Washington Post’s allegations of child molestation against Moore indicates how strongly his followers and supporters are standing by him. State Auditor Jim Zeigler for example, compared Moore’s situation to that of an underage Virgin Mary who was wed to the older carpenter Joseph. Borrelli says the evangelical notion of forgiveness and redemption might work in Moore’s favor…maybe…

“It didn’t work for Robert Bentley,” says Borelli. He's referring to Governor Robert Bentley who made no bones about his Christian faith during his campaign and his time in office. Borrelli says Alabama was less forgiving after Bentley pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor campaign finance violations. That was also after being tape recorded making sexually explicit statements to a female aide. Borrelli says Roy Moore’s situation is different from Bentley’s…

“Even though he portrayed himself as a traditional values type Christian, I don’t think it was as central to his image as a politician as it was for Roy Moore.”

Within hours of the Washington Post story, we put that question to APR political commentator Steve Flowers. He thinks Moore’s followers don’t care…

“They believe this late in the campaign…that something that came up that may have happened thirty or forty years ago. And hearsay, and he said she said scenario …they’re going to look at as political sabotage…by the liberal Washington Post media.”

However, that may not apply to everyone in Alabama. The Doug Jones campaign has been holding rallies in communities including Mobile, Birmingham, Huntsville, and Tuscaloosa. Borelli says that’s not accidental, and a specific voter is the target..

“Some of Strange voters….voters for Strange," says Borrelli. "…something you’ve heard before, I’m sure.”

Borrelli is referring to moderate Republicans who backed Luther Strange failed primary bid against Roy Moore. It appears the Doug Jones is trying to get these people to jump ship and abandon. Steve Flowers says it may be working…

“You can go through neighborhoods of upscale… urbane…establishment Republican neighborhoods…Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Mobile," says Flowers. "And you see Doug Jones signs in almost every yard.”

Which takes back to people like Bill Eubanks. He came to hear Doug Jones speak at a rally in Birmingham…

“I knew his record, that he had tried Eric Rudolph and the KKK for the 16th Street bombing," says Eubanks who's mixing cases from Jones days as U.S. Attorney. He led the prosecution of Rudolph for the 1996 Olympic park bombing, and successfully convicted two Klansmen for the 1963 bombing in Birmingham. Eubanks is registered as an Independent, but he leans Democratic..

“And, I don’t see how you fake that. He seemed to me like he spoke from the heart, and I don’t see how you fake that  ”

But, for every voter going for Doug Jones, the polls say another voter is going for Roy Moore. So, unless something big breaks, we may not know the result until the ballots are counted

Editor's Note-- A new survey out today gives Roy Moore a ten percent lead over Democrat Doug Jones. Emerson College conducted the poll, and admits it represents a twelve percent drop in support for Moore from its previous survey. That older poll gave Moore a twenty two point lead over Jones, just before Moore won the GOP nomination. Pat D