Running on a platform that pulls from both the progressive and conservative camps, Doug Jones could be on the verge of becoming the first Democrat from Alabama to hold a U.S. Senate seat in over two decades.
Mr. Jones, who has never run for political office, opposes tax cuts for the rich and supports an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.
The 63-year-old also is staunchly pro-choice, putting him at odds with embattled Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who is staunchly pro-life.
But Mr. Jones also has distanced himself from the Bernard Sanders wing of the Democratic Party by coming out against calls for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system. Nor does he see eye to eye with gun control activists, saying the government should enforce the laws already the books — not impose more restrictions. He also wants to beef up military spending, arguing that it could help boost the state’s economy.
“Doug is a moderate, middle-of-the-road guy who wants to work with anybody who has good ideas,” said Giles Perkins, the former chair of the Alabama Democratic Party.
Buoyed by sexual misconduct accusations against Mr. Moore, Mr. Jones is within striking distance of making history three weeks out from the Dec. 12 special election.
The winner will serve out the remaining two years in the term of Jeff Sessions, who vacated the seat to become President Trump’s attorney general.
Democrats’ last statewide victory in Alabama was in 2008. The last time Democrats won a Senate seat was 1992.
James Bennett, chairman of the Calhoun County Republican Party in Alabama, said Mr. Jones is running a strong campaign — in part because he has flooded the airwaves with commercials that resonate and because he “never talks about being a Democrat.”
Mr. Bennett said voters won’t be as excited about Mr. Jones if they learn that he supported President Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as many of their policies.
“That is all the people in Alabama need to know,” he said.
Mr. Moore recently said he wants to refocus the race on the issues and argues that his conservative vision is more in tune with voters in Alabama.
On Sunday, Mr. Moore retweeted a story in which the national director of Priests for Life said Mr. Jones, “like Hillary Clinton, represents well the extreme position of the Democrat Party platform on abortion.”
The idea that a Democrat could flip control of a seat that Mr. Sessions held for 20 years in one of the reddest states was thought to be far-fetched a few months ago.
But a perfect storm could be brewing around Mr. Moore, who has vigorously denied the accusations against him and has shaken his fist at Republican leaders in Washington who have long viewed his candidacy as radioactive and now want him to drop out of the race.
On the campaign trail, Mr. Jones is telling Alabama voters they have a clear choice between his forward-looking vision and desire to act as a bridge-builder in Washington on issues such as health care, infrastructure and taxes, or what he calls the outdated thinking of Republican Roy Moore, who Mr. Jones says has a history of butting heads with people who don’t see things his way.
“It is impossible for Roy Moore to find common ground with anybody who disagrees with him,” Mr. Jones said at a recent campaign stop.
Mr. Jones is running neck and neck with Mr. Moore, according to the Real Clear Politics Average of Polls.
“It has been a long time since the Democrats won a Senate race in Alabama, and it would be a big deal, but more important it would be a great opportunity for the state to have someone serving in office who would protect Alabama and someone who voters could be proud of,” Mr. Perkins said.
The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics recently shifted its rating of the race from “likely Republican” to “leans Democratic.”
“It’s amazing to write, and there’s time for our outlook to change, but here goes: A Democrat is now a narrow favorite to win a Senate special election in Alabama,” the group said in an analysis of the race.
Indeed, the last Democrat to win a Senate seat in Alabama was Richard C. Shelby, who switched parties two years later.
Despite being a first-time candidate, Mr. Jones is well-known, having served as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama under President Clinton, where he charged and convicted two members of the Ku Klux Klan involved in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four black girls.
Mr. Jones has owned the airwaves, making it hard for Mr. Moore and his supporters to tie him to national Democratic figures.
Advertising Analytics said, as of last week, Mr. Jones had spent more than $3.8 million on ads compared with less than $340,000 for Mr. Moore.
In the ads, Mr. Jones has presented himself as a bridge-builder, vowing to work across party lines “with honor and civility” and warning that Mr. Moore’s policies “will take us back to the past.”
He has touted the role he played in convicting the Klansmen, vowed to stand up for the Constitution and promised to be a unifying figure. Hoping to capitalize on Mr. Moore’s struggles, he also has aired a television ad in which self-identified Republican voters say they are abandoning Mr. Moore.