MONTGOMERY — Democrat Doug Jones’ honeymoon in the U.S. Senate will be a short one, with Alabama Republicans already gunning for the seat in 2020.
Jones’ campaign is being credited with a massive get-out-the-vote campaign in his victory Tuesday over Republican Roy Moore. Now he faces a battle to keep the job and will have to play some smart politics in the next two years.
“He sold himself on his ability to work across party lines, so he’s going to have to do that,” University of Alabama political science professor Richard Fording said. And he’ll have to vote with Republicans from time to time.
“He’ll have to pick and choose,” Fording added. “The Democrats in this state are going to have to be willing to let him do that, too.”
In an interview last week, Jones said his votes will not always be along party lines.
“I think you can expect me to vote in ways that are in the best interest of Alabama,” he said. “If there are more Republicans voting that way, I’ll do that. If there are more Democrats voting that way, I’ll do that.”
He didn’t yet have a list of legislation he wanted to push, but cited workforce development and health care as priorities. His campaign speeches often mentioned the need to fund the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides care to about 150,000 low- and middle-income children and teens in Alabama.
He also wants to work with members of the Alabama delegation to keep federal funding in the state, including the Appalachian Regional Commission’s allocation. President Donald Trump earlier this year proposed eliminating funding for the commission, which brought $5 million to rural Alabama projects in 2016. It was one of several proposed cuts that would impact rural and low-income residents.
The Senate is Jones’ first elected office, and he said he’s ready to work with U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, who in the weeks before the election said he wasn’t voting for Moore but would write in a GOP candidate.
Jones said he had a gracious phone call with Republican Gov. Kay Ivey last week. Ivey supported Moore in the race.
“I told her I want to do whatever we can to move this state forward,” he said.
Jones said he wasn’t sure which committees he might want or get. Interim Sen. Luther Strange was on agriculture, which is important to Alabama, Jones said. Judiciary would be great, the former U.S. attorney said.
“We’ll be in talks with both parties to try to figure that out,” he said.
While Morgan County — and 19 other north Alabama counties, with the exception of Madison — went red Tuesday for Moore, inside Decatur's city limits, Jones won by 71 votes.
“That hasn’t happened in a long time in Decatur,” said Rex Cheatham, a resident and member of the state Democratic Committee.
He said Jones’ grassroots effort was like nothing he has seen in decades of watching Alabama politics. He also knows Jones will from time to time vote with Republicans.
“Doug believes the people of Alabama, and everywhere, are tired of the political infighting,” Cheatham said. They want elected officials to do what’s best for them, regardless of party.
He expects to see Jones working well with Shelby and others on things such as industrial recruitment.
Fording said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from the red state of West Virginia, is a good blueprint to follow. He often votes with Republicans on Second Amendment issues.
Manchin on CNN last week said he told Jones to be an “Alabama Democrat,” not a Washington Democrat.
Republicans, meanwhile, said they’ll have a better candidate in 2020.
“Roy Moore was not a good candidate, and Roy Moore did not run a good campaign. Therefore, he lost by 20,000 votes,” Republican political consultant Lance Hyche said. He said the Republican Party and the Alabama business community will find a strong candidate — one who unlike Moore will be backed by the “Chamber of Commerce Republicans” — to take the seat back.
Jones was a fantastic pick for Democrats, Hyche said. But if he runs in 2020, he’s going to have to appeal to conservative voters and be moderate on Democrats’ party lines on abortion and gay marriage.
“If I were advising him, I’d tell him to moderate his social views, take a pro-business stance,” Hyche said.
Meanwhile, he can’t forget a base that got him elected.
"He’s going to have to deliver for the African Americans who came out to support him,” Fording said. “That will be tricky to do in a way without getting branded as a radical liberal.”
Assuming they both run, Jones could be on the ballot in 2020 with Trump.
According to exit polls last week, Trump’s approval and disapproval ratings in Alabama — a state he easily won in 2016 — was 48 percent, several media outlets reported.
If those numbers remain low, that could help Jones.
“A lot of Republicans, like with Roy Moore, won’t be overly enthusiastic about coming out to support (Trump),” Fording said.
Coattails often help down-ballot candidates, Hyche said.
“(Trump’s approval rating) is a concern for us in the Republican Party,” he said.