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Can A Democrat Win In Alabama?


It's been a quarter of a century since reliably red Alabama elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. But polls show a competitive race in a special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions' seat. Democrat Doug Jones faces Republican Roy Moore. He's the candidate with a controversial record that includes being removed twice from public office. Here's NPR's Debbie Elliott.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: In Mobile, hundreds turned out for a Doug Jones fish fry underneath sprawling oak trees on the banks of the Dog River. The Democratic Senate candidate appears to have a lift in his step as he greets supporters.

DOUG JONES: Hey, how are you?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi. It's nice to meet you.

JONES: I'm Doug.


PAT SCHWIETERMAN: All of us Democrats need to come out the closet.

ELLIOTT: Voter Pat Schwieterman tells him she's thrilled to have a viable Democrat on the ballot.

SCHWIETERMAN: I can't stand it anymore. I feel so alone out here.

JONES: We're giving people a reason to believe.


JONES: And that's all we're talking about. So we're in great shape.

SCHWIETERMAN: Well, I really...

ELLIOTT: He's in high spirits because just this week, a new Fox poll shows the race tied. Most others have Republican Roy Moore up but by single digits, not the advantage you'd expect in a state President Trump won with 63 percent of the vote. Jones, a former U.S. attorney from Birmingham, tells the crowd he's aware that the odds are against him in this Republican-dominated state.

JONES: It's not the first time that I heard that something I wanted to do, what - something I was passionate about was a longshot. When we prosecuted old Klansmen for the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church...


JONES: ...I was told it was a longshot, Doug.

ELLIOTT: Jones is best known for convicting the church bombers who killed four black girls, prosecuting the case decades after the Civil Rights era crime. He's the son of a Birmingham steelworker and is campaigning on what he calls kitchen table issues, not the social issues that often drive Alabama elections. He says he won't embarrass the state.

JONES: People are tired of the dysfunction. They want somebody who can reach across the aisle. They don't want more chaos in Washington, D.C., which is what Roy Moore would be.

ELLIOTT: Roy Moore's campaign disputes that notion, pointing out that he's got the backing of Alabama's entire Republican congressional delegation. Moore's primary victory was the opening salvo in former White House strategist Steve Bannon's war on the GOP establishment in Washington. And Moore came out swinging during his speech at the recent Values Voter Summit.


ROY MOORE: It's not just a swamp. It's quicksand. We don't have leadership. We have followership.

ELLIOTT: He said the way to make America great again is to make it good again.


MOORE: We return the knowledge of God to our land, and God will heal our land.

ELLIOTT: A darling of religious conservatives, Moore was removed as Alabama chief justice twice for defying federal courts over a Ten Commandments monument and same-sex marriage. He's said that homosexual behavior should be illegal and that a Muslim member should not be allowed to take the congressional oath. Moore and a nonprofit founded by his family, the Foundation For Moral Law, have come under scrutiny for more than a million dollars he earned from the charity. This week, a reporter asked President Trump what made him comfortable with Moore serving in the U.S. Senate. He deflected the question and said he's planning to talk with Moore next week.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And we're going to talk to him about a lot of different things. But I'll be meeting with him. He ran a very strong race. The people of Alabama, who I like very much - and they like me very much. But they like Roy.

ELLIOTT: The question is whether the president will come to Alabama to campaign for Moore before the December general election. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Mobile, Ala.


NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
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