Democratic Nominee for the U.S. Senate in Alabama Doug Jones

The Democratic nominee discusses his campaign for Alabama’s Senate seat.

Doug Jones is the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in the Alabama special election on December 12, 2017.  Jones served as U.S. Attorney in Birmingham beginning in 1997. Among many cases, he successfully prosecuted the Klansmen responsible for killing four young girls in the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.

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TRANSCRIPT

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Tavis: So pleased to welcome Doug Jones back to this program. The former federal prosecutor is the Democratic nominee for the Senate seat in Alabama, as if you didn’t know [laugh]. He joins us tonight from Birmingham. Doug Jones, as always, sir, good to have you on this program.

Doug Jones: Always great to be with you, Tavis. Thanks for having me.

Tavis: Let me start with this Tweet that everybody saw hours ago from President Donald Trump. I read and I quote, “The last thing we need in Alabama and the U.S. Senate is a Schumer-Pelosi puppet who is weak on crime, weak on the border, bad for our military and our great vets, bad for our Second Amendment and wants to raise taxes to the sky.” That is the Tweet from President Trump about you, Doug Jones. What do you have to say?

Jones: Well, you know, Tavis, we’ve been focusing on both my record and what I’m saying. And if you look at my record — and you know my record, Tavis. You know what my record is as a former federal prosecutor in Alabama. You know what my record is and what I’ve been saying.

We’ve been talking about the issues that are most important to the people of this state and that’s about cutting taxes for the middle class and the lower income folks in Alabama.

It’s talking about the kitchen table issues that you talk to every night with your family about healthcare, getting affordable healthcare, making sure that we have Medicaid and Medicare to protect our seniors and those that are less fortunate than others in this state. Those are the kind of issues that we are focusing on, we’ve been focusing on.

Regardless of what’s going out there on the internet, I’m asking people to just take a look at the record. Look at my record, look at my opponent’s record, look at what we’re saying about the issues that mean so much to so many people right now. Because I think at the end of the day on December 12, that’s what they’re gonna be voting on.

Tavis: We’ll come back to those issues in this conversation, Doug, I promise you. Let me start by asking, though, how difficult it has been to focus on those issues in the State of Alabama when so much is riding on this seat. Indeed, control of the Senate in part hangs on who gets this seat.

And when you have national Republicans, Mitch McConnell and so many others, Lindsey Graham — I could run the list tonight — Senator Thune, so many Republicans telling Roy Moore he ought to get out of the race, others saying if he wins, they’re not going to seat him.

The president has gotten involved in this. He’s Tweeting about you, he’s gone down to Alabama earlier in this campaign to campaign for his candidate who lost. The White House is saying today — an unnamed source is saying the president is not going to come to Alabama at this point to campaign for Roy Moore. He kind of left that open in his Rose Garden comments days ago.

So at the moment, at least, we’re told he’s not going to come to Alabama to campaign for Roy Moore. But clearly, what he said the other day was an endorsement of Roy Moore, so I ask how difficult has it been to focus on the issues in Alabama when all of this national swirl is around this campaign?

Jones: Well, you know, Tavis, it’s actually been quite easy for me. I’m just not paying attention to the national swirl, to be honest with you. We started this campaign back in May and you and I communicated a little bit back in May about the issues that we felt like were important to the people of the State of Alabama.

And I made a promise to my campaign, to my family, to all those folks who had urged me get in this race that we’re gonna stay focused no matter which why this race goes. We’re gonna stay focused on the issues that we believe the people in Alabama have in common. Yeah, there’s a lot of political noise out there. You know, it’s swirling around all over, but I’m letting other people deal with that.

I’m focusing on the issues. My campaign is out there every day knocking on doors, talking to people about the positives of a Doug Jones campaign and what we can do to find common ground for people and to try to move Alabama forward.

So it’s really been a lot easier for me than what most people think. It’s fodder for the media, but for us, it’s steady as she goes and we’re building the traction and we’ve had the wind at our back for a long time now. And we feel very good about where we’ve come, where we’re headed and where we’re gonna end up on December 12.

Tavis: You don’t just have the wind at your back. You are leading in most every poll that I’ve seen of late. You are leading — I know that polls aren’t votes and I’m sure Roy Moore would say that were he here. We’ll wait until December 12 to see what happens. He might intone. But what does it mean for a Democrat to even be leading a Senate race in the State of Alabama?

Jones: Well, Tavis, I think the only thing — first of all, you know, we don’t really follow those polls. I mean, you know, you only have to go back and look is happening in college football to understand that polls just don’t mean a whole lot [laugh], okay?

Tavis: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jones: Until that final time and…

Tavis: Yeah, roll tide, yeah.

Jones: You know, so there’s gonna be a shakeup there. So we really hadn’t followed those polls that much. But what I think this campaign is saying, in all candor, I think what this campaign is saying is that people are tired of the divisiveness. They’re tired of the hateful rhetoric that they hear out of Washington and out of Montgomery and places in Alabama. They’re just tired of that.

They want somebody who’s gonna be able to talk to them, that will reach across the aisle, that will talk to them and have a dialog with them and not a monologue. I think people are, you know, yearning for somebody that they can sit down and talk to and, at the end of the day, they say, “You know what? We may not agree with everything you say.

You’re probably not gonna vote with us on everything that comes down the pike, but you know what? We can find that common ground. We can find some issues that’ll help move the state forward and, if we can’t, we can civilly agree to disagree and we’ll find common ground on the next issue that may come down the pike.”

I think that’s really what this says. I think that that’s why it’s captured the imagination in the national media. It’s not just for some kind of control. It’s about changing the whole culture of politics and trying to get back to a civil discourse about what’s best for the State of Alabama and what’s best for the country.

Tavis: So give me some sense of what you’ve been saying, what you have said, in response to the allegations that have been made against Mr. Moore. We know there are about, what, a dozen, nine or ten? I’ve lost track now.

But there are a whole bunch of women who have come out and raised these allegations against Mr. Moore. Some of these women were underage when these allegations of his behavior are alleged to have occurred. What have you said about these allegations against Mr. Moore on the campaign trail?

Jones: Well, let me start this way, Tavis, to say that, you know, when you say we’ve both been on the ground working and going toe to toe, that’s not really actually the case. I’ve been crisscrossing the state and I’ve been everywhere in the state, and he’s hard to be found. I think he’s got something today, but he has been underground. He is not facing the media. He’s not facing voters.

Tavis: Fair enough, fair enough.

Jones: I’ve been out there every day. I’ve been out there every day talking to different people from across the state. Just candidly, I don’t talk about all of those allegations on the campaign trail.

I get asked about it in the media and I told the media before that I think the statements made by those women in Etowah County are far more credible than the denials made by Roy Moore and his handlers. And then I’ve moved on. And when I talk — I was in Hale County last night at a function. There was probably 300 people there, at least. I didn’t mention any of those.

I talked about the issues that are important. Now I’ll talk about Roy Moore’s record and the fact that he got removed from office twice, got kicked out as Chief Justice for not following the rule of law on two separate occasions. I’ll talk about this foundation that he said where he told folks that he’s not taking any salary and yet, over the course of a period of years, took about a million dollars.

We talk about that, but I’ve avoided talking about any of this other and I’ve wanted to talk to folks about the issues because they’re gonna hear a lot about all of those allegations that are out there, all of the statements of those women. I talked about the issues that are facing folks, but I will say this, Tavis. I have talked about the fact that we have now found a new kitchen table issue.

It’s not just jobs and healthcare, but there’s a new table issue that ought to come to the table now and ought to be talked about more. It’s a fact that these brave women that are coming forward across this country need to be heard. They need to be believed.

And that’s a very important development, I think, in this country and it hits the halls of Congress. It hits the State of Alabama. It hits everywhere where there’s a powerful man who’s kind of doing the things that should not be done and women have not spoken out.

Now they’re feeling the power to do it. They should be. They should feel empowered to speak out, to stand up, and stand up for their rights. So I think that that’s an issue we have talked about some, but the specifics on Roy, we’ve just let the nature take its course and let the media do its job and let other people talk about it.

Tavis: When you say this story has hit Alabama, indeed it has hit Alabama and Mr. Moore is sort of the poster boy for bad behavior in the State of Alabama at the moment. How does this make the State of Alabama look?

Jones: Well, obviously, Tavis, it’s not good. It’s never good when you’re the butt of jokes. The state is the butt of jones on all the late-night talk shows and on Saturday Night Live. You know, you can laugh at them, but for folks in Alabama, you’ve also got to cringe a little bit.

Once again, Alabama’s not being put in a good light and that’s consistent, unfortunately, with the fact that we’ve had a history in this state for the last few years of a governor that’s had to leave office under similar circumstances, a Speaker of the House that got convicted.

So none of that’s good, none of that’s good. And what’s been somewhat disappointing, I think, is the response to some of the Republican leaders in Alabama who are simply putting their party and politics above what’s really right.

On the one hand, they’ll say they believe the women of Etowah County that have come out against Roy Moore, but at the same time, they feel like it’s okay. They’re somehow pardoning him for that in order to just get a vote and remain a seat. That’s unfortunate. It would be unfortunate on both sides of the aisle.

We’ve got to start making sure that we put our country, our state, before all of the politics of this. We’ve just got to do that as a people. So I’m hoping that, at the end of the day, there’ll be enough people in Alabama who are gonna see it that way and they’re gonna look at my record.

And I don’t want them to vote for me just to vote against somebody else. I want them to look at my record and I want to be the kind of a senator they can be proud of that we can send to the United States Senate and be a new face for Alabama.

Tavis: I want to talk about your record in just a second, Doug Jones, but since you referenced those Republicans in the State of Alabama who are putting party above doing what’s right and behaving in a way that would be admirable for the State of Alabama, President Trump seemed to suggest or, in fact, said — this is not an exact quote, but you’ll take my point.

He basically said that Roy Moore has denied these allegations and he has to be listened to as well. So to the president, at least, Roy Moore has denied that this stuff ever happened and that’s good enough for him. Is it good enough that Roy Moore just denies it?

Jones: I don’t think it is. I think that, if you look at the other statements made by people up and down the political spectrum on both sides of the aisle, in Alabama and outside Alabama, they’ve listened to the denials. They’ve listened to the stories. They’ve read the stories. They’ve heard the stories.

And they’ve read the various denials and, overwhelmingly, people tend to come and say, “You know what? The stories that these women tell are much more credible than the denials that Roy Moore has.” I think at the end of the day, that’s gonna be a key for the people of this state.

They’re gonna pass judgment on that one way or another and they’re gonna make their decisions based on that. I just think that, as folks look at those issues, just the denials are not enough. But at the same time, you have to look at all that’s gone on and what all is said in a broader context.

I think too, Tavis. that you have to look at the timing and the timing for this is not just the fact that 40 years have passed, but we are at a point in this country where women are feeling empowered to come forward to talk about things that they have so far been behind closed doors, that they have felt abused, and I can’t blame them.

Once you see that, people feel that empowerment, then they feel some comfort. They know that there are others that have gone through the same thing. So I think that when you examine both sides of that, people can come for their own judgment. I have and I think a lot of other people have too, and it’s not on the side of Roy Moore.

Tavis: You were the prosecutor. I never was. But let me prosecute you right quick, which is to say I want to throw at you the stuff that they’re saying about you and give you a chance to respond. When I say about you, I mean about your campaign.

Let me start by saying as I’ve said any number of times, I fell in love with you years ago having nothing to do with politics, but having to do with justice. I fell in love with you when you fought to get the trial back on track to get some convictions for those four little girls who were killed in that 16th Baptist Church in Birmingham.

You were the one that led the fight to get that case reopened and you won. And myself and a whole lot of other folk who care about justice in this country fell in love with you then for the work that you did on that case. A whole lot of Black folk in Alabama fell in love with you then because of your stewardship and your tenacity to get that case reopened again and to win and get some convictions.

Now what the media is telling us, that those same Black folk don’t turn out for special elections, and that the problem that Doug Jones has is that, if he can’t get Barack Obama level turnout from Black folk in Alabama when everything else is going in his favor right now, leading in the polls, if Black folk in Alabama don’t turn out, you don’t win this race. To that, you say what?

Jones: Well, you know, look, Tavis. There’s a base of voters out there that we believe will support this campaign. And like every other campaign, when we started this race in May, long before all of this — you know, got so controversial — we knew that there was a base of voters that we needed to focus on and needed to turn out.

So we’ve been doing that. We did it in the primary. You know, there was thought that we might be in a runoff in the primary. There was talk that we might barely squeak through without a runoff. Well, we ended up with 65% of the vote in the Democratic primary.

You know, I’ve got a great campaign team. They know what it takes to run an election. They know how to count votes. They know what it takes to win. So we’ve been focusing on that from day one. So I feel very good about where our campaign is, what we’re doing in these last two weeks to make sure that we do have a vote out and it’s a vote for Doug Jones on December 12.

Tavis: So if you can get the Black folk to vote for you, you’re partly there to victory. Then they say that you’re going to need a decent slice of the Evangelicals and that is the base — that’s Roy Moore’s base. How do you cut into that base, never mind all these ugly stories about him? Can you pull a significant slice of white Evangelicals in Alabama?

Jones: Well, you know, Tavis, I’m not sure you have to completely get there. There will be a number of those that I think will come over and there’ll be others that are so disappointed that they may just stay home.

The other thing that I think, though, that’s important is that there is still a strong contingency of independent voters in this state or people that tend to vote one way or another. But at the end of the day, they’re gonna look at issues and that’s what they’re gonna vote on. That’s what we’ve been focusing on also.

Not just the base that we know is out there, but we know that there is a large contingency and I think that contingency has grown over the last couple of years with the dissatisfaction of both political parties where folks have started focusing on issues. So, you know, there’s voters on both sides of the aisle that you’re just not gonna get.

There’s Democrats that Roy Moore can never get. There’s Republicans that I’ll never get, but there’s a huge contingency of folks in the middle that are looking. They’re gonna be looking at the issues that matter to them most. That’s where our message has been so consistent from day one and we’ve not wavered on that. We’ve not tried to reach anyone.

We’ve not tried to do anything that we wouldn’t normally do, and I think that’s been important. When people see that consistency and they know I’m saying the same things to different groups around the state, they know that there’s someone that’s there that they can find common ground with and I think that’s the real key to this election.

Tavis: The New York Times, the Washington Post — I could run the list. They say that you are on the wrong side of the abortion question in Alabama.

Jones: Okay. Is there a question there, Tavis [laugh]?

Tavis: That’s what they say. Do you want to respond to that [laugh]?

Jones: You know, look. I support the law as it exists. I’ve said that for a long time. You know, those questions are so personal, there’s so intensely personal that I believe that every woman has that freedom that they should choose, and that’s been the law. People forget that that’s been the law for about 50 years now, maybe a little bit less than that. But it’s been the law for a long time.

I don’t support late-term procedures as people are trying to say, but I support the law as it existed for a long time. It’s Roy Moore that’s got the extreme views on that, not Doug Jones. I think at the end of the day, people want to see that law upheld. I feel very good where we are on that issue. And we’re going forward regardless of what the national pundits might say about it.

Tavis: So let me ask you a question I asked you the last time you were on this program some time ago, and that was about the behavior of the Democrats.

I said to you that I wasn’t so happy and wasn’t so excited about whether or not the Democrats were going to get their act together and understand that you could be competitive, that you could win this race in Alabama. Have they come to their senses yet? Have they stepped up? Is the party supporting you?

Jones: Well, you know what? I’ve got a group of people in Alabama that’s supporting me and that’s all I’ve truly cared about. We talked about that then. You know, we’ve been successful in our fundraising efforts. We’ve been successful in our organizing efforts. We’ve been able to do enough in this campaign to talk about issues where we’ve got an excitement from one end of this state to the other.

We’ve got people on the ground from one end of this state to the other. It’s not just the Democrats in Alabama that have come to our rescue. It is also the Independents. It’s the millennials. It’s people from all walks of life. You know, I’ve been everywhere, Tavis.

You would be amazed at the crowds that we’re drawing in areas that had never seen a Democrat even come, much less have an event. We’re seeing hundreds of people come in, people from all walks of life that come up to me and say, “Thank you for running. I’ve not voted for a Democrat in a long time or ever, but this time, I like your message. I like what you’re doing.”

So I feel like this campaign has it together and that’s all that I really care about. It’s all I’ve ever really cared about because, at the end of the day, this is a race for the people of Alabama, for the heart and soul of this state, and how we’re gonna be perceived as a people going forward.

Tavis: This never ceases to amaze me, Doug. I am always — I find it mindboggling that in a race that is this type, in a race where the choices are so vastly different, where the choices are so starkly different, that you still have a decent number of people who say they are undecided. What do you make of the undecided number in Alabama and how are you going to win the undecided?

Jones: Well, you know, look, I think that people are still undecided because they’re just not used to voting but a certain way. I mean, people to some extent have — you know, Democrats haven’t given people much of a choice in Alabama over the last few years. And they’ve seen things and they want to do the right thing. So that’s the main thing.

I think that people right now, they want to do the right thing in their heart and they want to put their best foot forward. They just have been, you know, in the past they’ve just been voting a certain way and it’s hard to go back.

They don’t like a lot of the things they hear from either party, so I think the undecided folks, as this race narrows down and we get down toward the finish line, there’s always a segment of folks who finally sit down and say, “Okay, I really need to start paying attention to this race.”

And we’re gonna say the same things to those people that we’ve been saying to everybody else. I believe that those folks, because they’re undecided, I think a lot of them are so focused on the issues, but yet they’re conflicted with certain things. I think, at the end of the day, our message is gonna be one that the undecideds break our way.

Tavis: Speaking of conflict, twice in this conversation you said you want Alabamans, Doug, to vote for you, not against Roy Moore. What’s the difference?

Jones: Well, I think there’s a huge difference, although, look, I’m not naïve enough to know that there’s not a lot of people in this state going to vote against Roy Moore. There will be people that vote against me just simply because I’m running under the Democratic ticket. So, you know, politics is what it is and there’s a lot of people in this state and elsewhere that always will vote what I call a negative vote.

But I think that we have seen the traction that we’ve seen, Tavis, over the summer and over the course of this fall and the crowds that we have seen even before Roy Moore got this nomination. Those were people that are looking for a change in leadership.

They’re looking for somebody that’s transparent, someone that will tell them the same thing, look them in the eye and say, “You might not agree with me on this, but this is the way I believe, but let me hear you out. Let’s talk about it. Educate me on what you think about the issues. Let me educate you on where I am and let’s find that common ground.”

You have not seen that very much in this stage. You certainly haven’t seen it on the other side right now or throughout the campaign you have not seen it. So I think that those issues, those people are — we got the wind at our back because people supported the Doug Jones campaign. They supported what we stand for. They liked what they’re hearing. That has given us the platform.

So the rest, if they come over, they’re gonna vote the way they’re gonna vote. We want all the votes, make no mistake. We’ll take all the votes for whatever reason, but for those undecideds and the others, we’re gonna make our positive case for them and we’ll let the rest just fall where it’s gonna fall.

Tavis: Let me close this conversation where I began, whether you like it or not. It’s become a national race, Doug, and we are hearing some talk that the Doug Jones campaign might enlist one Michelle Obama to do some work on behalf of the campaign between now and election day. Can you or do you care to shed any light on that rumor?

Jones: You know, rumors are rumors right now. We’ve got two weeks to go. I will tell you, Tavis, and this is the absolute truth. Every day with this campaign, we see something new. We see something where we need to plug a hole.

We’re reevaluating this campaign on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis. So we’re looking to see how best we can shore up our votes, to make sure people get to the polls. You know, we’ve got to educate folks that December 12 is an election day.

That’s number one, and then we’ll educate them about Doug Jones as well. So we’re gonna be looking at all options. We’re gonna see how things go. And we’re gonna do what we believe will carry us across the finish line. As they say in football, we’re gonna play the whole game.

Tavis: I think that Michelle is on the tarmac on the way to Alabama [laugh] right about now.

Jones: Oh, I don’t think you should believe anything [laugh].

Tavis: But I digress [laugh]. Doug Jones, thank you for always accepting our invitation to come on. I know that you are in the midst of a serious race and not time to hang out with people like me. But thank you for this conversation and all the best to you on the race, sir.

Jones: All right. Thanks, Tavis. It’s always great to be with you. I enjoyed it.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: November 29, 2017 at 12:50 pm