BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Prominent black leaders from Alabama and across the country are descending on the Yellowhammer State to help push Democrat Doug Jones over the finish line in the Senate race against Republican candidate Roy Moore.
Jones and his campaign spent Sunday working with top black Democratic surrogates around the state in a unified effort to drum up support. This included an afternoon campaign stop in Birmingham with Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerDOJ announces agencywide limits on chokeholds and no-knock entries Fighting poverty, the Biden way Top Senate Democrats urge Biden to take immediate action on home confinement program MORE (D-N.J.), and events held down state by Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) and Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric RichmondThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Questions on Biden agenda; unemployment benefits to end Sunday shows - Biden domestic agenda, Texas abortion law dominate Biden adviser: 'Full steam ahead' on .5T package despite Manchin warning MORE (D-La.), two members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Sparking strong black voter turnout has been an integral part of Jones’s strategy as he hopes to score an upset victory over Moore in Tuesday’s Senate special election.
Jones leads the polls with black voters by huge margins, thanks in no small part to his role prosecuting klansmen who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church during the civil rights movement. But it remains unclear whether the unified effort will be enough to change Tuesday’s outcome in such a deep-red state.
“Will we now raise up the echoes and let people know that democracy is not a spectator sport? You can’t sit on the sidelines and cheer for teams to win. You have to get into the game; it is a full-contact, participatory endeavor,” Booker told a crowd in front of the Jones campaign headquarters in Birmingham.
“The opposite of justice is not injustice, it is inaction, it is indifference, silence. We have to remind people that faith without works is dead.”
Before arriving at the office in downtown Birmingham, which sits a block away from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and several doors down from black-owned barber shops and the Civil Rights Activists Committee, Jones finished a Sunday swing through a group of black churches in Birmingham.
Canvassers poured out of the Jones campaign office in downtown Birmingham to hear Jones, Sewell and Booker speak, with the crowd outside chanting along with those who made it inside the small building.
Jones supporters say Sunday’s push is indicative of the attention the Democrat has given to turning out the key parts of his base, which includes minority voters as well as moderates who may be turned off by the controversial Moore, who has faced allegations of sexual misconduct.
“I think that Doug Jones has built the coalition that I dream for Democrats to go and make a comeback,” said state Rep. Anthony Daniels, who serves as the Democratic leader in the state House.
“They’ve built a really good coalition that reflects the state of Alabama and its diversity.”
Jones’s success prosecuting the 16th Street Baptist Church bombers is a central part of his campaign’s messaging.
That grisly crime, which took place in 1963, killed four African-American girls who were inside the predominately black church at the time. The tragedy served as a seminal moment in the civil rights movement.
Law enforcement officials initially closed the investigation into the bombing without any charges, so the perpetrators were prosecuted in subsequent decades. Jones handled the case for the final two men responsible for the bombing, a prosecution that began in the late 1990s.
In addition to his role in the bombing case, "kitchen table issues" and the various allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against his opponent also play important roles in Jones’s messaging to black voters.
That messaging hasn’t been all about Jones — the campaign has also highlighted Moore’s comments on race to help push turnout. Last week, Jones blasted Moore in light of a new focus on September comments the Republican made arguing that America was last great “at the time when families were united, even though we had slavery.”
“With his extreme views and divisive rhetoric, Roy Moore would be incapable of representing all of the people of Alabama,” Jones spokesman Sebastian Kitchen said in a statement.
But with the turnout in an off-year special election expected to be low, at least compared to an election year, it remains to be seen whether Jones can turn out enough black voters to win.
Black voters make up just one-quarter of the state's voting-age population. So while Jones's margin among the voting bloc can go as high as 70 percent or more in some polls, he'll need a surge of turnout to help pull off the upset.
Complicating that prospect, there has been little as far as a Democratic ground game in the state in recent years to help with basic tasks like voter registration.
And there are concerns among some black activists that some of the Jones campaign’s messaging could turn off black voters, too.
Criticism has centered on a recent mailer that showed a picture of a black man with a skeptical look on his face. Above him, the mailer reads: “Think if a black man went after high school girls anyone would try to make him a senator?”
“Someone, probably a white man, thought that the image would resonate with black people and motivate them to get out the vote,” wrote Michael Harriot, a staff writer at The Root.
“The flyer is reductive in its oversimplification of the black mind as only caring about black issues. While it might not be racist, it is certainly racist adjacent.”
The controversy led to Jones being asked about it during an interview on SiriusXM’s "Joe Madison Show" late last week.
“That mailer kind of speaks for itself. You know, maybe we could’ve used a little bit different language,” Jones said.
He went on to frame the election as a choice between Moore, who he said is “not a credible person,” and his own record.
“[I have] done my part to make sure that we have social justice and nondiscrimination in this state. And, that we treat everybody with dignity and respect,” Jones said.