WASHINGTON – Doug Jones took the oath of office as Alabama’s first Democratic U.S. senator in 20 years Wednesday, narrowing the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49.
“I am humbled and honored to stand here today, chosen by the people of Alabama to represent our state in this historic institution,” Jones said. “I will work every day to make sure I hear their voices and that their voices are heard in Washington. It is time to come together and rebuild the trust we need to find common ground and expand opportunity for all.”
Jones is widely seen as a Democrat who will challenge President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans in their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, fight increases in the minimum wage and oppose abortion rights.
With Jones in the Senate, GOP success in repealing Obamacare becomes much less likely, and if just two Republicans vote with Democrats, Trump nominees or budget measures would be defeated.
Vice President Mike Pence swore in Jones, who took the oath with his hand on a family Bible in the sparsely populated Senate chamber.The 63-year-old Jones stood beside former Vice President Joe Biden, his longtime friend and political ally, who encouraged him to run last year.
Roy Moore, former chief justice of Alabama, was Jones’ Republican opponent. Moore entered the general election race considered a heavy favorite. But the Washington Post on Nov. 9 published a story in which several women accused him of making inappropriate sexual advances toward them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Moore repeatedly has denied the allegations, but they dogged him through the rest of the campaign.
Jones rarely raised the sexual relations allegations against Moore, but the former prosecutor made an exception in a speech a week before the election, saying, “I damn sure believe that I have done my part to ensure that men who hurt little girls should go to jail and not the United States Senate.”
Federal elections filings showed Moore outspent Jones 10-to-1 from Oct. 1 through Nov. 22.
But Jones pulled together a grassroots campaign in which workers knocked on 30,000 doors and made more than 1 million phone calls, eking out victory by 21,924 votes, with 1.3 million ballots cast in one of the nation’s most conservative states. Moore has never conceded the race, although his last-minute challenge to the result was thrown out of court
Not only did Jones’ grassroots campaign trump Moore’s, his fundraising did too, in the end.
Moore raised $5.5 million for his campaign through the general election and Jones raised $11.72 million. It wasn’t all because of Moore’s scandal. Democratic individuals and groups lined up behind Jones in an effort to sway their numbers in the Senate.
In addition to the campaigns’ fundraising, independent committees aligned with both parties spent more than $19 million on television advertisements and other efforts to either elect or defeat their favored candidate during the election cycle.
In all, more than $40 million was spent campaigning for candidates to serve in the Senate for two years, finishing the term of former senator and current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Jones in the Senate
On the eve of his swearing-in, Jones named as his chief of staff Dana Gresham, a Birmingham native who had served as an assistant secretary for governmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Gresham’s appointment as only the second African-American chief of staff in the Senate’s Democratic caucus drew praise from the Washington-based civil rights group the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
“The Joint Center commends Senator-elect Jones for his leadership and commitment to diversity,” the center said in a statement. “This is an important moment in the movement to make the Senate truly representative of all Americans. The Joint Center looks forward to continuing to work with Senator-elect Jones as he makes diversity a priority in building the rest of his staff.”
Jones becomes Alabama’s first Democratic senator since former Sen. Howell Heflin retired in January 1997.
Jones, whose committee memberships remained unclear Wednesday, has called for fully funding the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program and allowing hundreds of thousands of children who came to the U.S. as undocumented immigrants to remain. He has also vehemently opposed congressional funding of the wall President Trump wants to build at the Mexican border.
Speaking of the border wall in December, Jones said, “I don’t think that’s an expense taxpayers should have to incur.”
After Jones won the historic special election, Trump said: “Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard-fought victory. The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!”
In fact, the write-in votes did not play a large factor in the election. Most of them were for cartoon characters or football coaches. Jones had the most votes in the first, unofficial vote count, and his margin widened slightly in the certified vote, which included write-in votes, provisional ballots and military voters. Jones picked up 2,745 votes in that process; Moore gained 1,536 votes.