Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee in Alabama’s special Senate election, is running the first TV ad about the allegations swirling around Republican nominee Roy Moore, in a meticulous and careful way.
In “I’m for Doug Jones,” which the campaign put into circulation this week, a number of unnamed “Republican voters” explain why they “just can’t” stick with their party in the Dec. 12 election. Two of the voters refer, unmistakably but subtly, to allegations of Moore’s improper conduct with teenage girls that were first reported by The Washington Post.
“He’s already been removed from office twice,” says one voter.
“And this time, it’s even worse,” says another.
“You read the story and it just shakes you,” says a female voter. Another female voter finishes the thought: “Just awful.”
At no point does the ad get into the particulars of the scandal, which have included descriptions of a 32-year-old Moore, at the start of a long legal career in Alabama, initiating a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old and dating other teens. It’s a more careful approach than the one Democrats used in 2015, the last time the party won an upset victory in the Deep South, when now-Gov. Jon Bel Edwards loudly reminded voters in Louisiana of his opponent’s prostitution scandal.
But Jones, a first-time candidate seeking to break a 21-year GOP streak of Alabama wins, has been careful to run against Moore not over his conservatism but over his fitness for office. In his TV spots before the Moore scandal broke, Jones generally spoke straight to the camera and promised to work with Republicans if he won. In his last pre-scandal spot, Jones told voters that the health-care system was “broken” and that “Roy Moore’s extreme views and grandstanding will do nothing to fix it.”
In another spot, highlighted by Slate magazine last week, Jones told a story from the battle of Gettysburg, illustrating how Americans could “come together” by praising the bravery of Union and Confederate soldiers.
“What brought those two brave men, one from Alabama and one from Maine, together was war — two sides believing so strongly in their cause that they were willing to die for it,” Jones said in the ad.
Jones, who had raised more than $1 million for his campaign after Moore won the Sept. 26 primary, has had the airwaves largely to himself. Since defeating Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) for the nomination, Moore looked to be running a do-no-harm campaign, holding only a few public events and refusing to debate Jones.
Until last week, national Republicans and Democrats both believed that Moore’s strategy was working, with Republican voters coalescing around their nominee and Jones — who on several issues, like abortion, is significantly to the left of Alabama voters — unable to win many crossovers.
Both parties now believe that the ground has shifted. On Tuesday morning, the Cook Political Report shifted its rating of the race from “leaning Republican” to a “toss-up.”