MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Democrat Doug Jones is trying to shore up support among black voters in his U.S. Senate race against Republican Roy Moore by appealing for an end to the divisiveness that has long been part of the state's politics.
Speaking at an event held at a predominantly black church Friday night after stops in heavily black areas of east Alabama during the day, Jones said he hoped Election Day will be historic for the state.
His remarks came on the anniversary of the arrest of black seamstress Rosa Parks in 1955 for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus. The resulting Montgomery Bus Boycott helped spark the modern civil rights movement.
"We have more in common than we have to divide us," Jones said at a speech at Maggie Street Missionary Baptist Church. "We cannot let people, candidates and public officials continue to divide us the way this state has been divided in the past."
On Saturday, Jones plans to participate in the Christmas parade in Selma, a landmark city of the civil rights movement. Jones' outreach to African-American voters comes ahead of the Dec. 12 election where he faces Republican Roy Moore.
Jones is attempting to be the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama in 25 years, but it's an uphill fight. An attorney with working-class roots, he's a white Democrat in a state controlled by conservative white Republicans.
To win against Moore, Jones must energize the state's Democratic base, composed mainly of black residents, who account for 23 percent of the state's registered voters. A poor turnout by African-American voters could sink Jones.
"We are really trying to get everybody to really consider how serious this matter is. If we don't get out, he doesn't stand a chance," said Sandra Gamble, who came to hear Jones speak in Montgomery.
He also needs to peel away moderate GOP support from the deeply conservative Moore, who has a dedicated evangelical following.
Aware of the odd dynamics of a special election held during the holiday season — when voters' minds are more often on football or shopping than politics — Jones' campaign has launched an effort to get out the vote that includes radio, billboards and neighborhood canvassing.
Partly to reach black voters, Jones has emphasized his role leading the prosecution against the two Klansmen who bombed Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, killing four little girls. The campaign has also specifically targeted millennial African-Americans with ads emphasizing positions on education and the economy.
The Alabama chapter of the NAACP and a collaboration of a majority black fraternities and sororities also have launched a drive aimed at getting those younger voters to the polls.
State Sen. Hank Sanders, a Democrat from Selma, said he had concerns that Jones wasn't reaching enough black voters, but believes he is doing better recently in that effort.
"I've been involved in elections since 1972, this one is the hardest to predict," Sanders said.
Chiriga King Vinson already is sold. An African-American woman from Decatur, Vinson said she plans to vote for Jones in part because she believes he could help the state's reputation.
"Since I've lived in other states, I know the images people outside of Alabama have. A lot of those images are negative," Vinson said
On the campaign trail, Jones has portrayed himself as a bridge builder.
"Elections have consequences. I think we are at a pivotal time in our state where we can either take steps forward or we can go backwards. We can either take steps that can unite us behind the issues that we have in common a divisive way that we are seeing far too much of in this country," Jones said at a recent stop.
Jones recently made an appearance with young progressive Randall Woodfin, inaugurated this week as the new mayor of mostly black Birmingham. Beneath blue and white balloons, Woodfin urged people to get to the polls to support Jones.
"People keep asking: Can Doug Jones win this race?" Woodfin said to the crowd. "My answer is the exact same every time: Yes."