As the voting numbers started to come in Tuesday night, so did calls, texts, and social media posts to Alabama residents from their out-of-state friends, family and acquaintances.
The fervor of the race between Doug Jones and Roy Moore in the special Senate election had captured the attention of the entire country.
Alabamians found themselves cast in the role of unofficial political analysts even before election night.
Early in the race, buzz seemed to be about the race’s effect on the balance of power in the U.S. Senate and candidates’ controversial statements. The national conversation exploded after the Washington Post published a story alleging sexual misconduct on the part of Republican candidate Roy Moore. National and international news outlets flocked to Alabama to cover the candidates.
Just as it happens when a big football game is played or a tornado touches down, everyday people became the micro-level information headquarters for their friends and family.
Sarah Tucker, a 12-year resident of Jefferson County, gave her closest friend, Lindsay, a virtual front row seat to the campaign and election. Lindsay, who lives in Colorado, and Tucker texted each other during the two weeks leading up to the election. On election night, they stayed in close contact via texts.
“She asked me what the local channels were saying; all she had to go on was CNN,” said Tucker. Using her phone to shoot video of the local TV station’s election coverage, the two created a make-shift election viewing party. Once the results were in, Lindsay posted to Tucker’s Facebook timeline saying, “Well done Alabamans. Congrats to my favorite Alabaman, Sarah Tucker!”
Other friends weighed in, too, posting to Tucker’s Facebook timeline, calling on the phone or chiming in on a social media thread.
“One of my friends was giving pep talks …” said Tucker.
A Personal Stake
Tucker‘s friends connected with her because they saw themselves as having a stake in the issues, she said. “For my friend Lindsay, the issues that pulled her in were probably about Moore’s sexual allegation and women’s rights, but for my friend Billy, who is from New Mexico but currently lives in California, it was more likely about gay rights.
Billy sent me a picture of him cheering with a glass of wine. “He is the first one who told me that Jones won.” said Tucker.
Sean Kelley, an Alabama native who recently relocated to Palm Beach County, Florida, was surprised by the number of people who approached him about the election.
“My Methodist minister texted me (election night) — after 11 p.m..” said Kelley.
At his job, Kelly said, people asked him about the election.
“Usually the only time Alabama comes up is after a major college football game,” he said.
As to why his friends and acquaintances are interested in Alabama’s Senate race, Kelley said, “Most are curious more than really engaged, although my Democrat-leaning friends have followed the twists and turns of the election closely.”
You Just Can’t Leave Alabama
Former Alabamians seemed to feel like they had a stake in this special Senate election, too. Emily Jones Rushing, who grew up in Mountain Brook, connected with a few of her high school classmates and a former college roommate about the election. Rushing’s college roommate lives in Baltimore.
“She sent me an email about six weeks ago, after the primary, prior to any of the allegations about Moore,” Rushing said. Her friend seemed mostly to want to get information about the race and understand what the candidates were all about. “I tried to give her a picture of what was going on in Alabama,” she said.
One of Rushing’s high school classmates, now located in Houston, Texas, regularly keeps in touch with Rushing. She wanted a better understanding of how her hometown was voting and reached out to Rushing to get a sense of the political climate.
Another high school classmate who now lives in Massachusetts texted throughout election day expressing her good wishes. When the results were in, the classmate ended with a final text that simply read “Amazing.”
For Rushing it wasn’t a case of gawking spectators trying to get an inside scoop.
“My two high school friends have an appreciation for this state and all of its beauty and its flaws,” she said, “but they also understand that there are plenty of flawed individuals all over the country, too. They were genuinely concerned and want to see this (election result) as a positive sign for the state where they were raised.”
Involved From Afar
Homewood resident Susan Roberts McWilliams, who lived in Southside in Birmingham for 18 years, received enthusiastic texts and Facebook messages from family members and several of her Smith College friends.
“I’m probably the least political in my group of “Smithie” friends, but all of these people keep asking me what’s going on here and what’s it like,” McWilliams said.
For Williams, fielding calls and texts and posts got wearisome as the campaign progressed.
“People kept asking if I thought Jones could win,” she said. McWilliams, a Jones supporter, said that, at first, she was enthusiastic and optimistic but eventually “got really worried” as time went on.
The race became fun again when she and one of her Smithie friends started participating in Postcards for Voters. The grassroots group organizes volunteers to write postcards to encourage voters to support a particular candidate.
“I don’t know if it’s really the most important thing I could be doing, but I pointed a Smith friend to it and she got into it and sent out some postcards to people for Jones all the way from California!”