TROY, Ala. – Standing by a blue pickup truck at a rally near the birthplace of the late civil rights icon John Lewis, Alabama Sen. Doug Jones urged voters to look at his record from his three years in office and not what he called Republican distortions about him.
“Don't listen to the lies. ... I don't want to defund the police. I'm not taking anybody's guns away. I'm not for federally funded abortions," Jones said in his closing message. “Look at the record. I’ve got a record passing bipartisan legislation, working with Republicans, working with Democrats. I’ve got a record for doing things for teachers, for farmers, for our military, for Alabama.”
Considered the most endangered Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Jones is facing Republican Tommy Tuberville, who harnessed college football coaching fame and President Donald Trump's endorsement to block former Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ attempt at a political comeback. Sessions has since appeared with Tuberville on the campaign trail.
The race in solidly pro-Trump Alabama will test whether Democrats can make inroads in the Deep South and if Jones' 2017 special election win was a fluke driven by the fact that the GOP nominee, Roy Moore, faced a litany of sexual misconduct allegations.
The outcome of this year's race could also have a big effect on the Senate, which Republicans currently control 53-47. While Tuberville entered the race as a strong favorite, Jones holds a 4-to-1 spending advantage and both campaigns sent out fundraising emails contending the race is tightening.
Jones has been on a campaign blitz while Tuberville has adopted a strategy akin to running out the clock. Tuberville has announced fewer public campaign events, concentrated media appearances on conservative talk radio and has refused to debate Jones.
Positioning himself as a political outsider, Tuberville's message has been heavy on support for Trump.
In a recent ad, Tuberville said, “I’m going to stand with President Trump to finish the border wall, cut your taxes, and protect life."
“Between Doug Jones and me, voters have the choice between a devoted liberal who embraces the D.C. swamp or a committed conservative outsider who wants to fundamentally change the way Washington operates,” Tuberville said in a statement.
Tuberville's record as a football coach has even become campaign fodder. The former Auburn University football coach ran an ad with a former player talking about how Tuberville cared about players as people, not just athletes. Jones, meanwhile, ran a commercial saying Tuberville “quit on his players” when he abruptly changed coaching jobs multiple times.
Jones, the first Alabama Democrat elected to the Senate in a quarter-century, is trying to prove his 2017 victory was no outlier.
“A lot has to go right for a Democrat in Alabama to pick the lock and win an election. Jones ran an exemplary campaign in 2017 and benefited from a perfect storm – and many of those same underlying elements are in place again," said Zac McCrary, a Democratic pollster.
To win, McCrary said Jones needs strong Black turnout and big support from independents and younger, more suburban white voters.
Republican campaign strategist Angi Stalnaker said Tuberville comes in with an “incredible advantage” just by having an “R” by his name.
Many Alabamians also aren't happy that Jones voted in February to remove Trump from office, she said.
“I think Senator Jones has been on the ropes since the day he was sworn in, but when he cast a vote to impeach Trump. ... I think he put his nail in his own coffin,” Stalnaker said.
Trump is expected to easily carry the state again, meaning Jones would have to win over some Trump voters. Jones made a direct appeal to GOP voters in ads featuring Republican voters, including retired Gen. Charles Krulak — a former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps — endorsing Jones.
“Although I am a life-long Republican, I’m urging you to vote for Doug Jones. His work on the Armed Services Committee supports our veterans and military families, and ensures that we have the best equipped military in the world,” Krulak said in the ad.
Jones has tried to question Tuberville's past financial dealings and readiness to be senator. He highlighted a recording of Tuberville appearing to struggle with a question about the Voting Rights Act.
“The thing about the Voting Rights Act is, you know, there’s a lot of different things you can look at it as. Who is it going to help? What direction do we need to go with it? I think it’s important that everything we do we keep secure. We keep an eye on it. It’s run by our government,” Tuberville said, according to the recording from a rotary club meeting.
Jones played Tuberville's answer during a campaign rally in Troy. "He should be ashamed to even be on the ballot in the state of Alabama with not knowing what the Voting Rights Act is.”
Collen Layton, a 23-year-old graphic design student, came to hear Jones speak that day.
“It's just kind of a no-brainer to me. He has a record of working across the aisle and can tell that he cares about the people of Alabama. And you have Tommy Tuberville, who seems like he has no clue what he is doing,” Layton said.
In Hoover, 56-year-old retired field artillery officer Russ Stringer said it was a similarly easy choice to vote for Tuberville, and has been critical of Jones on social media.
“I have called him out on his abortion stance and how it does not agree with most people in Alabama. I called him out on voting to remove President Trump twice,” Stringer said.
There are some discouraging signs for Jones, including that national Democratic groups haven't reported significant spending in Alabama, according to finance reports.
While Democrats have made gains in southern states such as Virginia and North Carolina, the Deep South has fewer large suburban areas, and “has been more sluggish for Democrats,” McCrary said.
But if Jones does win, McCrary said it would cement the possibility that Democrats can win in areas once thought impossible.