MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The ad from Stars and Stripes Forever runs only infrequently; the conservative super PAC has spent just $4,720 to put it on some of Alabama’s black radio stations. But like all of the super PAC’s work, it grabs the listener’s attention with a fictional conversation between two fictional black voters about Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Doug Jones.
“I heard Doug Jones would add even more black babies to the 300,000 already being aborted this year,” a female voice says.
“Three hundred thousand black babies aborted?” a shocked male voice responds.
“A vote for Doug Jones is a vote for more black abortions, no school choice and higher taxes for job creators,” the first voice says.
“So he says whatever he needs to get our votes …”
. . . then keeps us down once he’s elected.”
The ad, which makes no mention of Republican nominee Roy Moore, is the latest product of a group originally created to help win the 2016 presidential nomination for Ben Carson. But in Alabama, it has been drowned out by harsh Democratic ads that attack Moore directly, accusing him of unexplored ties to white supremacists.
In urban areas where Jones needs to win big, the super PAC Highway 31 — a team-up between the Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA, two Democratic groups — has purchased pre-roll ads that run before some YouTube videos. Over just a few seconds, images of Dylann Roof, who has been sentenced to death for killing nine people at a historically black church in South Carolina, flash across the screen.
“Roy Moore has ties to the same white supremacists who inspired the Charleston shooter,” says a narrator in the ad. “Vote for Doug Jones.”
In another spot, paid for by the Jones campaign and playing on radio stations, male and female narrators take turns warning of the support Moore has received from the far right.
“A Mississippi KKK group backed Moore’s refusal to enforce federal law,” the narrators say. “Moore’s organization took $1,000 from a neo-Nazi group. His candidacy is backed by the racist alt-right groups. And Moore is a birther, still insisting that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and isn’t an American.”
Not every ad aimed at black voters is quite as bracing. In another common spot, paid for by the Alabama New South Alliance, a recap of Jones’s work as a U.S. attorney who prosecuted hate groups is coupled with his promise of what he would do in the Senate.
“Just one vote in the United States Senate saved Obamacare,” the ad’s narrator says. “Just one more vote can save this whole country.”
Both camps are confident that their direct approaches — which are not reflected in the TV ads that most voters have seen — will help their sides meet turnout models. In Stars and Stripes Forever’s case, the ad is designed to urge black voters not to vote at all. On its website, the PAC takes partial credit for Donald Trump’s gains with black voters relative to Mitt Romney, something Democrats think was more of a response to Hillary Clinton motivating fewer voters than Barack Obama. The anti-Democratic ads were designed after 2002 spots, controversial at the time, that ran on black radio in areas where black turnout decreased.
“While the increase in the Republican vote was not dramatic, the decrease in votes for the Democratic candidate was very significant,” the PAC explains. “Not only did the black and Hispanic vote total not increase as predicted by the Washington, D.C., GOP consultants, it actually declined substantially in both black and Hispanic areas reached by the radio and television advertising.”
Alabama Democrats, however, are cautiously optimistic about black turnout today. Jones spent the morning zipping between heavily black precincts; in Montgomery County, the single largest stronghold of black Democratic voters, local election officials said Tuesday that turnout might reach that of the 2016 general election. Jones, the first competitive Democratic candidate for federal office here since the early 1990s, also has been able to fully fund turnout operations in the so-called “black belt.”