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For Democratic candidate Doug Jones, big turnout with former Vice President Joe Biden could bolster campaign

By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

The atmosphere was reminiscent of years now past when Democratic candidates in Alabama could draw big crowds and national attention. That time could be back again, or at least that’s what the Democrats hope.

Doug Jones, the former U.S. attorney turned Senate candidate who looks to upset firebrand GOP candidate Roy Moore, on Tuesday drew more than 1,000 supporters to an auditorium in Birmingham for a rally with former Vice President Joe Biden — the most high-profile figure to stump for a Democrat in Alabama in years.

The Democrats hope Biden’s visit, the turnout and the ensuing excitement from the crowd packed into the auditorium Tuesday will translate into actual votes as the campaign progresses over the next few months. But more importantly, Biden’s visit might signal significant nationwide support that could bolster Jones’ resources and his fundraising operation.

During his speech, Biden highlighted Jones’ character, his experience and his beliefs. All of those things, he said, could translate into a shocking upset that could give Alabama a senator who will work for them.

“When he wins this race, it will send ripples across this country,” Biden said. “But don’t do it for that reason. Do it for Alabama. Do it for Alabama.”

Jones’ campaign has deep ties to the former vice president. His campaign manager Bill Romjue is a former Biden operative who worked as his Iowa state director during Biden’s 2008 presidential bid.

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With a fractured Republican voting bloc still reeling from the tense campaign between former Chief Justice Roy Moore and Sen. Luther Strange, Democrats see an opportunity to capitalize in a state that hasn’t elected someone with a D beside their name to statewide office since 2008.

Moore’s election was a shock to establishment Republicans who had thrown their support behind Strange in the hopes of keeping a predictable senator who would back the leadership’s plans. And Moore’s controversial history on the bench was another red mark on the judge’s resume, and that history could now provide an opening for Jones.

Outside support and money have backfired against other candidates in Republican-controlled districts, though. Earlier this year, Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff lost in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. In the final weeks leading up to the election, Republicans hit him on accepting money from national Dems and claimed he would be a lackey for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Cali.

Jones will have to balance the need for funds and alienating Alabama voters. Moore’s campaign has already hit him for bringing Biden to the state.

“Doug Jones has been trying to fool Alabama voters into thinking that he is really one of them, but he has shown his true colors by bringing in President Obama’s Vice President to campaign for him and raise money for his campaign,” Moore’s campaign said.

Democrats are presenting Jones a reasonable, measured candidate with the ability to gain respect from both sides of the aisle — qualities they hope will contrast with Moore’s views.

“You know folks, in our system, there’s no way it can function without consensus, consensus,” said Biden, who served as a U.S. senator for 36 years. “We don’t need another extremist up in the United States Senate.”

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Biden didn’t name Moore explicitly.

Moore has been a fierce and consistent opponent of same-sex marriage throughout his time in Alabama politics. He was removed from the Alabama Supreme Court in 2016 after defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision. More than a decade earlier, he was removed for defying a federal order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state’s judicial building.

“When you’re on the right side of history and on the right side of justice, you can do anything,” Jones said. “Roy Moore is not on the right side.”

Recent polls put Jones slightly down against Moore. The spread ranges from within the margin of error to 8 points apart in a state where Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., won re-election last year by 27 percentage points.

Biden, a long-time friend of Jones, made his way to the Yellowhammer State Tuesday not only to help out a pal but to buoy a long-shot candidate who just might have a chance — even if only a sliver of one.

“I promised Doug I would campaign for him or against him, whichever one would help him most,” Biden said jokingly. “Doug possess what an American political leader and the system need today.”

Jones’ experience as the prosecutor who took down the 16th Street Baptist Church bombers and helped prosecute Eric Rudolph, who was later convicted for a series of bombings against Planned Parenthood clinics and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. At Biden’s mention of the bombings, the crowd erupted into cheers for Jones.

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“My mother used to say that the most important virtue was courage,” Biden later said. “Doug has demonstrated his courage and his absolute integrity. … Doug knows Alabama. He knows your heart. And he’ll never let you down.”

Jones and Moore will face off on Dec. 12 in the statewide special election.

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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