- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2017

SELMA, Ala. — Being a Democrat in Alabama is sort of like being a Republican in Massachusetts — only worse.

After ruling Alabama for decades, Democrats have watched from the sidelines as the Republican speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard, has been sentenced to prison for ethics violations, and GOP Gov. Robert Bentley resigned after getting engulfed in a sex scandal.

Democrats are now fretting that Roy Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who was twice ousted from the bench, is poised to overcome allegations of sexual misconduct and defeat Democrat Doug Jones in Tuesday’s special election for the Senate.

The party’s recent struggles and inability to capitalize on the GOP’s public stumbles has stoked a deep sense of frustration and disillusionment among Democrats, who grouse about how “family-values” Republicans keep winning despite being exposed as hypocrites.

“It’s a Republican state and that will never change I don’t think,” said Chevonne Norfleet, a 32-year-old Selma Democrat.

Others have gotten creative with their thinking, even floating the idea that if the party’s luck doesn’t turn sometime soon that perhaps they’d be better trying to infiltrate the GOP in hopes or remaking the party from the inside out.

“Then people can’t charge you with being a Democrat,” said Johnnie Leashore, a member of the Selma City Council. “Sometimes you have to think outside the box. Sometimes you have to join them if you are going to beat him.”

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Mr. Jones, a former federal prosecutor who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, is looking to deliver victory for a Democratic Party that has not had a statewide win since 2008 and the party’s first win in a Senate election since Richard Shelby won a seat in 1992, only to switch parties two years later.

Things grew bleaker for Democrats in 2010 when the GOP took over both chambers of the state legislature, for the first time since Reconstruction.

Republicans also control six of seven seats in the U.S. House.

When Nancy Worley took over the reins of the Alabama Democratic Party in 2013 she said she inherited about $1 million in debt. They’ve since cut the debt almost in half, but still are cash-strapped, and lack a robust statewide infrastructure — leaving a lot of heavy lifting to Mr. Jones.

“The reality is the party hasn’t been able to build a robust mechanism in a long time, so we are relying on our own people and incorporating party workers on every occasion that we can,” said Giles Perkins, who served executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party from 1997 to 1999.

Mark Kennedy, who chaired the Democrats from 2011 to 2013, had a blunter take: “Doug Jones’ campaign is kind of on its own.”

Despite the odds, Mr. Jones is within striking distance — though polls show Mr. Moore has regained his footing after women came forward to accuse him of inappropriate sexual behavior.

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Political observers say Mr. Jones’ path to victory hinges on driving up the black vote and winning over GOP voters living in some of the state’s more affluent and educated areas who were never happy with Mr. Moore.

“Doug Jones will win or lose in my opinion base on the turnout of the African-American vote of the state,” said Mr. Kennedy, a former Alabama Supreme Court justice and husband of Peggy Wallace Kennedy, the daughter of former Gov. George C. Wallace.

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Jones has highlighted his role in successfully prosecuting two members of the Ku Klux Klan who carried out the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four black girls.

He reached out to black voters at a fish fry in Montgomery on the anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger in 1955, and marched in a parade in Selma that took him by the Edmund Pettus Bridge where armed police in 1965 attacked civil rights activists in an event that became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

He returned to Selma this weekend, campaigning with former Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Mr. Jones also has reminded voters about the recent GOP scandals.

“This state has seen a crisis in confidence of our leadership,” Mr. Jones told reporters at recent campaign stop. “We have had a governor removed, we have had a speaker of the House convicted, we’ve had another legislator convicted. We have had a chief justice now removed from office a second time.”

“That creates a crisis and people are tired of it,” he said. “They want to see someone who is not going to embarrass them.”

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Republicans say Democrats have been relegated to minority status because the party has become too liberal.

“I think the reason they struggle is Alabama, I think our morals are so much different. I am not going to say better or worse, but I think morally from a religious standpoint we hang onto the old values and those values the Democrats have given up on,” said Terry Dailey, a retired military veteran who plans to vote for Mr. Moore.

Mr. Daily said, “I think the Democrats have gotten so far from any type of organized religion that they have alienated Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, a lot of these southern states.”

Frances Taylor, president of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women, said she doesn’t think that former President John F. Kennedy could get elected in today’s Democratic Party.

“They have just moved so far to the left that they are almost out of touch with the common person,” Ms. Taylor said.

Many said the party’s slide accelerated after an election in 1986, when Attorney General Charles Graddick defeated Lt. Gov. Bill Baxley in the Democratic gubernatorial race only to have the state party strip the nomination away after ruling he encouraged Republicans to crossover and vote in the primary.

“Many voters were fine with the notion … that Graddick won with the support of crossover votes. However, they were mad that they didn’t have a chance to vote in a second run-off election,” said Sam Fisher, a political science professor at the University of South Alabama.

“In the general election, voters punished the Democratic Party by electing Guy Hunt, the Republican sacrificial lamb, governor,” Mr. Fisher said. “This gave Republicans an opening which over the years led to Republican dominance. Where Republicans had switched to the Democratic Party to run for office … they could now run as Republicans.”

Mr. Hunt, a part-time preacher who was known as “The Accidental Governor,” was later convicted of illegally taking $200,000 in inaugural funds for personal use and ousted from office.

Mrs. Worley, the Democratic Party chair, dismissed the idea that her party is too liberal for Alabama. It’s a convenient excuse, she said, for those who want to gloss over what she considers as the primary reason for the party’s struggles in the state.

“The South didn’t change political parties because of anything other than ethnicity,” Ms. Worley said. “It is a black-white thing, and you know Trump and his folks say just enough every now and then to stir that group up … So it works for them. People can call it whatever they want to call it, but it really comes back to racism.”

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