The odds of any Democrat capturing a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama are steep at best, but Doug Jones was uniquely suited to pull off an upset Tuesday over Republican Roy Moore.
Accusations that Moore sexually abused teenage girls played a big part, no doubt, in Jones’ improbable victory over the renowned religious right crusader.
Jones, 63, is a former U.S. attorney who cast himself as a law-and-order man. He is skilled at muting his liberal stands on such issues as abortion and gay rights — a necessity in one of the South’s most conservative states.
Jones also carries not a whiff of scandal, a major asset in Alabama after a spate of corruption scandals.
It didn’t hurt that Jones also supports gun rights.
“He turkey-hunts, he deer-hunts, and he believes strongly in the 2nd Amendment,” said Lowell Barron, a former Democratic leader in the state Senate.
He also prosecuted Eric Rudolph for the 1998 bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic, which killed an off-duty police officer and blinded a nurse.
Jones won the seat vacated by Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, the first Republican senator to break with his party’s establishment last year to endorse Donald Trump for president.
In 2020, when Jones will be up for reelection, he will probably be challenged by a Republican more viable than the politically wounded Moore, so he will face pressure in the Senate to resist his party’s most liberal impulses.
Jones has promised to seek common ground with Republicans.
“I would expect him to be a very conservative Democrat,” said Joseph Smith, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Analysts expect Jones to fit the mold of Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, another Democrat who was elected to the Senate in a deep-red state and votes accordingly.
Jones’ roots are blue-collar; his father worked at U.S. Steel in Birmingham. Jones, a lifelong resident of Alabama, is married and has three children. He worked a union job in a steel mill before earning his law degree at Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham.
His political experience is relatively thin. In the early 1980s, he worked in Washington as staff counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee under Sen. Howell Heflin of Alabama, a role model for Jones.
President Clinton named Jones U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama in 1997. He left the job when President George W. Bush took office in January 2001 and returned to private practice.
As he ran for Senate, Jones avoided talking about abortion and other cultural issues that animated Moore’s campaign, focusing instead on jobs, healthcare and education.
He calls for more spending on schools, job training and renewable energy, and less on prisons. Jones supports an overhaul of criminal sentencing laws to reduce incarceration of nonviolent felons. Though he supports Obamacare, he does not back single-payer healthcare, which many liberals advocate.
Democratic pollster Zac McCrary of Montgomery, Ala., said he expects Jones to stay focused in Washington on practical measures to improve voters’ day-to-day lives.
“I think that is where his energy will be focused,” he said. “That would be his wheelhouse.”