Was Doug Jones’ victory a fluke?
That’s been the prevailing question since November 2017’s special election, when Jones narrowly edged out Roy Moore for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Jones, an attorney from Birmingham, became the deep-red state’s first Democratic senator in a quarter-century, though many attributed the upset to the allegations of sexual misconduct that plagued his far-right opponent.
Three years later, Jones finds himself challenged for that seat by former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, who shares many of Moore’s far-right views but has far fewer glaring personal vulnerabilities. Riding an endorsement from President Donald Trump, Tuberville handily defeated Sessions’ primary attempt to regain his old seat and has consistently polled ahead of Jones, often by a double-digit margin.
Despite Tuberville’s apparent advantage, Jones is waging an aggressive campaign. He has vastly out-fundraised his opponent, with $8.7 million cash in hand compared to Tuberville’s $500,000, according to FEC filings. Many of those contributions have come from out of state — $1.6 million from donors in California and $1.3 million from donors in New York, according to Bloomberg — which he’s funneled into a $9 million advertising campaign attacking both Tuberville and Trump, who’s also up for re-election a little higher on the ballot.
“The polls do make it look like Jones is a goner,” wrote FiveThirtyEight editor Nate Silver last month. “But the fundamentals — including the fact that he’s raised a lot of money and has a track record of moderation — give Jones an uphill chance at victory.”
Jones hopes that his moderate approach — and his willingness to discuss specific issues — will set him apart from his mostly opaque opponent. Tuberville has refused to debate Jones and for the most part has spoken only to right-leaning news sources and radio shows.
“I’m not surprised,” Jones said of Tuberville’s refusal to appear at an Oct. 8 town hall. “He doesn’t have any of these answers. He doesn’t have any plans, and he doesn’t want to talk about these issues. He just wants to hide behind his party affiliation and let it carry the day.”
Throughout his term in office, Jones has conspicuously rejected the two-party binary, instead insisting that he could stake out “common ground” in Washington.
“I’ve told people in my campaign, ‘Don’t expect me to pass a litmus test for one side or the other,’” Jones told BirminghamWatch in February 2018. “I continue to get asked, ‘Are you liberal, conservative, moderate, progressive, what?’ And I say, ‘Don’t label me! I’m Doug, and I’m going to vote the way I feel. I’m certainly not going to pass the far left’s litmus test any more than I’m going to pass the far right’s litmus tests.”
The Trump Score
According to FiveThirtyEight, Jones’ “Trump score” for his first term is 35.4% — meaning that his vote aligns with the president’s position roughly one-third of the time.
He’s opposed many of Trump’s governmental opponents, including CIA Director Gina Haspel, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia, National Intelligence Director John L. Ratcliffe and Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought, all of whom ultimately were confirmed by the Senate.
Jones did vote yes on two key Trump nominees: Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper and Attorney General William Bar. In a statement, Jones said Barr had “assured me of his commitment to protecting civil rights, including the vigorous enforcement of voting rights protections.”
Months later, Jones tweeted that he’d hoped Barr would have been similar to Richard Nixon’s attorney general, Bill Ruckelshaus, who had defied Nixon and resigned from his position rather than fire independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox. “But he has shown that he clearly is not,” Jones said. “So with the benefit of hindsight my answer is no, my vote would not be the same.”
Jones notably opposed the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. Kavanaugh had been accused of sexual assault by Stanford University research psychologist Christine Blasey Ford. “The Kavanaugh nomination process has been flawed from the beginning and incomplete at the end,” Jones said in a statement shortly before the final vote. “Dr. Ford was credible and courageous, and I am concerned about the message our vote will be sending to our sons and daughters, as well as victims of sexual assault. I will be voting no.”
Jones also voted against Trump’s latest Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett, who was confirmed Oct. 26 and is filling the seat left open by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. During a drive-in rally earlier this month, Jones called Barrett’s nomination “a pure hypocritical political power grab that’s designed to take the health care away from millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Alabamians. This is a torpedo fired directly at the Affordable Care Act.”
But perhaps Jones’ biggest split from Trump came when he voted to convict the president during the impeachment trial earlier this year. He had previously attempted to assure his constituents that he would be “impartial,” telling The New Yorker that he expected “to get hit either way” he voted.
“I’ll get hit from the right if I vote a certain way; I’ll get hit from the left if I vote a certain way,” he said. “Unfortunately, in today’s world, people just don’t believe you could set politics aside.”
In a statement, Jones said he’d been pushed toward his decision by Trump’s actions, which Jones said “demonstrate a belief that he is above the law, that Congress has no power whatsoever in questioning or examining his actions, and that all who do so, do so at their peril. That belief, unprecedented in the history of this country, simply must not be permitted to stand. To do so otherwise risks guaranteeing that no future whistleblower or witness will ever come forward and no future President — Democrat or Republican — will be subject to Congressional oversight as mandated by the Constitution.”
On Abortion and Guns
The prospect of a six-member conservative majority on the Supreme Court has once again foregrounded the abortion debate in American discourse. That’s something Tuberville, who is against abortion rights, has seized upon, running a television ad that states Jones should “seek forgiveness” for his pro-choice position.
The ad describes Jones as “so extreme, he supports abortion up until birth” — a claim that both Jones and fact-checking website Politifact have decried as false. Tuberville’s campaign has defended the ad’s claims, pointing to Jones’ Senate vote against a bill placing tighter restrictions on federal abortion funding and against another bill criminalizing abortions after 20 weeks except in cases of rape or incest or to preserve the mother’s life.
Jones, meanwhile, has maintained that abortion “is a deeply personal decision between a woman, her health care provider and her faith.”
“While some candidates might deny the complexity of this issue and appeal to folks in a politically self-serving way that ignores the facts, this issue is rarely so simple for those who face this gut-wrenching situation,” Jones told the Montgomery Advertiser.
Tuberville also has accused Jones of being “anti-gun,” a position long considered anathema to Alabama politics.
Jones, meanwhile, has often emphasized his personal enjoyment of hunting, calling it a tradition “I’m working to protect for generations to come.”
He has come out in favor of “red-flag” laws, which allow police or family members to petition a state court to take away firearms from someone who may pose a danger to themselves or others, as well as raising the age required to purchase “certain semi-automatic weapons” to 21. Though Tuberville has characterized Jones as a “gun-grabber,” Jones told the Montgomery Advertiser that he opposes gun confiscation, mandatory buybacks and other such program.
But “more important” than gun reform, he said, is “strengthening access to mental health treatment” — via expanding Medicaid — which he argues would decrease gun-involved suicides.
On Health Care
Alabama is one of 12 states not to have expanded Medicaid, which Jones has lamented as a “shame.”
“Alabama lost out on billions of dollars, and it would have helped people in this state so much had they put their politics aside, had they put the Republican power politics aside down in Montgomery and expanded Medicaid and given good health care coverage to so many people in the state — over 300,000 people,” he said earlier this month.
“In the middle of this pandemic, we would have 300,000 to 400,000 people that would be getting better health care benefits,” he added, “if Alabama had just ponied up, put their partisan differences aside and invested in the people of Alabama’s health.”
On a broader scale, Jones has expressed concerns over attempts to appeal the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – which is slated to come before the Supreme Court next month. Tuberville, like many Senate Republicans, supports repealing the act, calling it “a failed experiment” and urging “a return to the free market where companies compete for your business, while ensuring that pre-existing conditions are not a deterrent to obtaining quality insurance and care.”
Jones, by contrast, has vigorously defended the ACA. “This is a law that has helped millions of Americans gain health insurance coverage and protected Alabamians in every corner of our great state,” he said in a video posted to social media on Oct. 13, urging viewers to submit their ACA stories.
He focused on some of those stories during a virtual roundtable on Oct. 15, inviting three Alabama residents to share the ways the ACA had benefitted them. “When I talk about protecting the ACA I want everyone to understand this is not theoretical,” Jones said. “This is not abstract. This is real life.
Jones has also warned that the ACA being stuck down would lead to elevated prescription drug prices for seniors. “That’s what is at stake here, folks,” he said earlier this month. “You know, we have got a situation here. Bottom line, ACA insurance plans prohibited from placing lifetime or annual caps. The ACA requires insurance coverage, preventative services, such as breast, colon, cervical cancer, all of those things, all of that goes away and puts it all back in the hands of the big insurance companies. We will be at their mercy without this law.”
In an April press release issued shortly after Tuberville’s runoff victory, Jones highlighted health care as a key issue in the race. “I will always protect health care for our seniors and people with pre-existing conditions,” he wrote. “That’s the record I will present to the people of Alabama at a time when our country and our state face multiple crises. We are not out of the woods yet but every step of the way I will have your back and no one else’s. The choice before the voters is an unprepared hyper-partisan that will add to the divide in Washington, or my proven track-record to find common ground and get things done.”