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Millennial voters could play a crucial role in Alabama Senate race

Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones speaks at a fish fry campaign event at Ensley Park on Nov. 18 in Birmingham. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Millennial voters could be a big factor if Democrat Doug Jones is able to pull off an upset over Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race. But as is true nationally, some young progressives in Alabama say the Democratic campaign could be more proactive instead of assuming that the Cotton State's youngest voters will simply turn out against Moore, following allegations that he pursued teenage girls when he was in his 30s.

In a recent Fox News poll, Jones leads Moore by eight points, in part on the strength of his advantages among voters 45 and younger. But activists on the ground say the Democratic candidate could do much more to target his outreach toward millennials.

There's been a swell of activity among young voters in Alabama since the election of President Trump. From the Women's March in Birmingham to Human Rights Campaign volunteers working phone banks, the deep red state has seen liberals advocate for liberal policies. But activist Julia Juarez said if Jones reaps those benefits, it might be more because millennials dislike Moore than are enthusiastic about Jones.

“The momentum of the #Resist marches and protests have morphed into an measurably more active bloc of voters in Birmingham, as noticed and enhanced by [Mayor] Randall Woodfin's victory,” she told the Fix.

“Millennials in this race are an afterthought in both campaigns. Jones does a slightly better job at including millennials, but that seems to be in spite of the campaign, not because of it,” Juarez added.

‘We dare defend our rights’: Alabama Republicans standing by Moore reflect state’s tradition of defiance

Although more than 4 in 10 millennials identify as independents, according to the Pew Research Center, history has shown that most young adults vote for the Democratic Party.

Fewer than half — 43 percent — of millennials have a favorable view of the Democratic Party, according to a new NBC News/GenForward survey. And almost half — 46 percent — say that the party doesn't care about people like them.

Rylan Pendelton, the Youth and College President for the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, told the Fix that there are numerous issues the state's millennials are focused on in this race.

"We need the young people to step up because the new administration is putting policies in place which will affect our education, school loans, housing and even healthcare," he said. "We must turn things around."

The NAACP "will be at several college campuses pushing and campaigning to actively engage young voters and encourage them to participate in the voting process," Pendelton added. "We want the young people to know voting is their voice and their voice is powerful."

Daniel Deriso, a local political operative, said Jones should not take young voters for granted and assume they will vote against Moore without him giving them a reasons to vote for him in the Dec. 12 special election.

“Over the next three weeks, the Jones camp needs to use every available opportunity to get millennials engaged and excited about voting for Doug Jones,” he told The Fix. “If they turn out, Doug Jones will win and Roy Moore’s career of divisive politics will finally come to an end.”

Woodfin recently became the youngest person elected Birmingham mayor, with the endorsement of former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). He said that millennial turnout will be crucial in the Senate race.

“Millennials have a major role to play in this race,” he said in an email. “If millennials turn out to vote at higher than average numbers like they did in the mayoral race last month (5,000 voters between the ages of 18-35 turned out to vote in a municipal election for the first time), then they can be a deciding factor in this race.”

“Millennials have the power to change the political dynamics here. If they turn out in high numbers, they will guarantee that Doug Jones will be the next senator from Alabama,” Woodfin added.

Even young conservatives in the state have withdrawn their support for Moore.

"The Young Republican Federation of Alabama Steering Committee joins in with the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Senator Richard Shelby and other Republicans in suspending all support for Roy Moore as a candidate for the United States Senate," the group stated.

The Jones campaign has had multiple campus events in cities and towns with colleges and universities, but it's not clear if they have targeted the progressive communities there. Alabama's long history of progressive activism might be most potent among the next generation of politicos.