By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
Doug Jones will need the support of college students across the state to win the special election next month, and the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate made an appeal Monday night to organizers and college voters to get out the vote.
On a conference call with Alabama college students Monday night, which came after he made a campaign stop at the University of Alabama Birmingham earlier in the day, Jones appealed to would-be supporters on college affordability, access to education and healthcare.
“Having access to education is one thing,” Jones said. “It’s not just a four-year college for everybody. It’s two-year colleges. It’s trade schools. It’s making sure that people have that education that’s necessary for the jobs that will be in Alabama, the jobs that are going to carry us in the 21st Century.”
The odds are against Jones as the Dec. 12 special election quickly approaches. A Democrat hasn’t won a Senate seat in Alabama since 1992 when Sen. Richard Shelby, then a Democrat, won re-election, and they haven’t won a statewide election since 2009 when longtime Alabama political icon Lucy Baxley was elected president of the Alabama Public Service Commission.
College Democrat groups offer a prime pool for Jones to tap for supporters and volunteers as his campaign heads into the final two weeks of the campaign. He and his campaign are urging campus organizers to get their fellow students out to vote.
“People have been calling. People have been canvassing. We really feel that we’ve got the wind in our back, and it’s because of folks like you that are getting out there,” Jones said. “This is such an important race, I think, for the future of Alabama. We are at a crossroads, and you all know it. We are at a true crossroads in this state where we can go forward or we can go backward.”
Jones told students on the call that he could be an effective senator and attempted to draw a contrast between himself and Moore, whom he painted as a chaos candidate.
“People are really looking for a change,” Jones said. “We can either go forward or we can go backward. The contrast between me and Roy Moore cannot be greater. We’re talking about the issues that mean something to folks. … He’s talking about issues that are going to divide us.”
The Democratic candidate has been crisscrossing the state, traveling more than 1,600 miles and attending 140 events, his spokesman said Monday. His campaign held a screening of “Four Little Girls,” which tells the story of the young women killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, on UAB’s campus UAB Monday. He met with students, pushing his career as a prosecutor and his frequent refrain about his record convicting the two Klansmen who perpetrated the 1963 bombing.
Jones told college students on the call Monday night that he “doesn’t have all of the answers” on college affordability, but he thinks most universities are too “top heavy,” leading to greater tuition costs and increases in student debt. If he were to make it to the Senate, he said he would fight to protect Pell Grants and other financial support for college students.
“I know how important it is for folks to be able to afford college,” Jones said. “In the budget that we’re hearing now, they want to cut back on Pell Grants and other things that can help give students access to the college that they might not can otherwise afford.”
He said higher education should be “more efficient.”
“I don’t know how much one U.S. Senate can have an effect,” Jones said. “I wish I had every answer. I will tell you, folks, I don’t. … But I will promise you, the cost of college education, the debt that students incur throughout their career that they will have saddled with them is a real concern of mine and something I want to work on once I get there in January.”
On other issues, Jones, who has painted himself as a moderate Democrat who can appeal to Republican voters who are disheartened by Moore, said he would work to make sure Alabamians are afforded a living wage, good jobs and affordable health care. He said the Senate should get back to regular order and hold hearings on improving the Affordable Care Act.
Jones did not address the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore Monday evening, though his campaign has been highlighting the allegations in recent ads.