Joe Trippi and Paul Maslin served as media strategist and pollster, respectively, for the Jones for Senate campaign.
We had to be crazy to think there was a chance a Democrat could win an election in Alabama. And even crazier to believe that the key to victory might just be found in our candidate's insistence on the simplest of messages. But with hostility growing and the partisan divide widening in Washington, Democratic Senate nominee Doug Jones wanted to talk about things that seemed to have stopped mattering — such as working together to solve our problems and finding common ground.
Was this even possible? We believed we were at a pivotal moment for Alabama and the nation. Our politics were coming apart — and what happened in Alabama would matter. Would the winner of the special election take us further down the path of chaos and division, or would Alabama help the nation realize that unity was not a pipe dream? Could Jones convince Republicans that he was sincere about the need to come together in the midst of tribal politics being driven by the likes of Republican nominee Roy Moore and President Trump? Would enough of them even listen? And if Jones could convince Republicans, would women, young people and African Americans turn out at the polls for someone delivering a message of reaching out to the other side? Could we ever thread all the needles necessary to win?
Jones and our campaign chose to use the chaos and tragedy of the Civil War to illustrate the danger of tribal politics in America. A 60-second October ad opening with two colonels — one from Alabama, one from Maine — battling for the high ground: Little Round Top, at Gettysburg, the key moment of perhaps the decisive battle of that war.
After describing the battle, whose participants desperately repelled attacks even after they ran out of ammunition, Jones spoke directly to the people of his state: "I want to go to Washington," he said, "and meet the representatives from Maine and those from every other state, not on a battlefield, but to find common ground. Because there is honor in compromise and civility, to pull together as a people and to get things done."
"There is honor in compromise and civility." In the fall of 2017, with Trump as our president and Moore and Breitbart executive Stephen K. Bannon on the other side, Jones chose that as the core message he wanted to deliver to not just Alabamians but the nation.
And it worked. Within a couple of weeks of the ad's airing, the race narrowed to a dead heat. Moore was at 46 percent and Jones at 45 percent in the poll we finished the day before The Post published its article about Moore's alleged child molestation. (Media polls were all over the place in Alabama. But we were confident we were seeing the real race. Our feeling was upheld in our final track on election eve, which showed Jones about two points ahead — the margin he ultimately won by.) In the days after The Post article, we took the lead, and held on despite a furious late charge from Trump, the Republican National Committee and Bannon.
African Americans turned out gloriously to vote 96 percent for Jones. He also made serious inroads among white suburban women, millennials, independents and Republicans who had supported Luther Strange in the GOP primary runoff. And when the state's other senator, Republican Richard C. Shelby, publicly stated that he cast a write-in ballot, instead of voting for Moore, nearly 2 percent of voters followed suit.
We will never know whether Jones would have won without the revelations about Moore's disturbing conduct. We are certain, however, that he could not have won without the powerful craving of people on both sides to become more unified as one nation. His victory should sound an alarm for Republicans in ruby-red states and congressional districts that they, too, could be in trouble. And both parties would do well to take seriously the growing frustrations among Americans with the parties' attacks on each other.
In Alabama last Tuesday, an outpouring of voices joined together and took, as Jones said, a different road than the ones they have too often chosen in the past. For one shining moment, the New South rose to declare to a divided nation that, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, "we are not enemies, but friends." They did Alabama proud, surely, but they may also have done America a tremendous service. The question now is: Will Trump and other leaders in Washington stop fighting long enough to get the message?