By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones received more than 200,000 more votes this year than he did when he won the seat three years ago.
But despite record Democratic turnout, it wasn’t nearly enough in the deeply red state as Republican former college football coach Tommy Tuberville racked up huge margins to handily defeat Jones and Democrats’ hopes of maintaining inroads in the Deep South state this year.
Jones, who was considered the Senate’s most endangered Democrat, topped former President Barack Obama’s 2008 record for most votes for a Democratic candidate in Alabama, state Democratic Party Executive Director Wade Perry said. Yet huge GOP numbers pushed the incumbent down to just 40% of the overall vote.
Tuberville made fealty to President Donald Trump the central pillar of his campaign and told voters at a campaign stop that, “God sent us and elected Donald Trump.” Boosted by GOP enthusiasm, straight-ticket voting and fame from his coaching days at Auburn University, Tuberville won about 60% of ballots, running about two percentage points behind Trump in the state.
“Alabama, welcome back to the Republican U.S. Senate,” Tuberville shouted after taking the stage to loud cheers at his election night party in downtown Montgomery.
“I am going to fight like heck against Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi,” he said. “I will be guided by our shared values, conservative values and I will always vote with the majority of people in the state of Alabama.”
Tuberville’s victory followed a campaign where Tuberville shunned most media outlets in favor of conservative talk radio and he declined to debate Jones.
Jones, a former U.S. attorney best known for prosecuting Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for Birmingham’s infamous 1963 church bombing, became the first Alabama Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in a quarter-century when he won in 2017. His victory was aided by scandal after Republican Roy Moore, already a controversial figure in the state, faced allegations of sexual misconduct from decades earlier. Some Republicans in the state sat out that race or supported Jones.
Republicans were eager to portray Jones’ 2017 win as an anomaly, and hammered at Jones over a handful of votes, including the Democrat’s decision to convict Trump during the impeachment trial.
“He will be the perfect example in political science classes around this nation of how to lose a U.S. Senate seat with $15 million dollars because you ignored the will of the majority of the people. It will be a short class,” Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan said of Jones.
Jones, despite outspending Tuberville 4-1, lost by a wide margin.
“There’s nothing else we could have done. It was a record Democratic turnout, exceeded only by a record Republican turnout,” Perry said Wednesday. Still, Jones hit a vote total that would have bested two of the past five GOP gubernatorial nominees, which Democrats took as a promising sign.
“We’ve got two years to do a better job. We’ve got some work to do,” Perry said. “I’m proud of Alabama Democrats and very proud of our staff. We worked very hard and had a record turnout. It just wasn’t enough.”
David Mowery, an Alabama-based political consultant, said “Republican DNA is hard-baked into the state” making it a difficult path for any Democrat, even a well-funded one. He said Alabama does not have the growing suburban populations that have helped turn some southern states into battlegrounds.
Although he was denied a full term in the Senate, Jones said there was work to continue.
“At the end of the day, my time in the Senate is going to be over, but our time is just beginning, our time to make our state so much better than what is has been, to make sure we continue the march of progress,” Jones said as he stood with his family on stage.
Jones said he did not regret the votes, such as impeachment and opposing Trump’s Supreme Court nominee — which fueled conservative outrage against him — because he said those were votes he took on principle.
Ahead of Tuesday, Jones had acknowledged he faced an uphill battle to keep the seat in a campaign that seemed as much about laying groundwork for the future. He helped install new leadership at the Alabama Democratic Party.
The senator also lamented a political environment that has moved to partisan rancor and away from bipartisanship.
“The Senate doesn’t have that kind of deliberative spirit anymore,” he said. “There’s a lot more friendliness and bipartisanship that goes on behind the scenes that folks don’t see, but it needs to be on the floor of the Senate, it needs to be in front of the cameras, it needs to be where people can see these great debates on policy, and on issues, and how you can find that common ground.”