Dothan, Alabama — The day after Doug Jones won the Democratic nomination for Senate, Dr. Joe Reed sat down to share his thoughts on the race with The Intercept. Reed, head of the Alabama Democratic Conference, is largely seen as the de facto leader of the Alabama Democratic Party, as most of the state executive committee is either an ally or member of the ADC.
He is, in many ways, the last true black party boss in the South. But the way Reed sees it, if a Democrat like Jones wants to win the Alabama Senate seat, he can’t rely on black votes, he has to do his own work in the white areas.
“He’s gonna have to campaign in white folks’ districts himself,” Reed said. As if on cue, his flip phone rang.
It was Doug Jones, calling to pay his respects.
“Now whatcha gotta do now,” he lectured Jones, “is get out on the road and tell Bubba and Cooter how important the Democratic Party is for them.”
He rattled off the names of long-dead Democratic congressmen and their accomplishments. “If he’s from around Huntsville, he oughta thank John Sparkman every day. If he got a student loan, he oughta thank Carl Elliott,” Reed said. “So go tell ’em what the Democratic Party has meant to them and meant to their parents.”
While Reed was comfortable delegating the white vote to Jones, he didn’t leave anything to chance on his end. Reed’s job was eased by Roy Moore, the Republican nominee, who toward the end of the campaign waxed poetically about the halcyon days of slavery, comments that got little attention at the time but began going viral last week. Asked by an African American voter when he thought America was last “great,” he reached for the years before the Civil War. “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another,” he said. “Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”
Precisely whose families were strong, and which were sold in pieces, was left unsaid, but it resonated nonetheless. Black activists in Alabama expected increased turnout in the Senate special election, in part due to those remarks. And they got it: Late Tuesday night, the Associated Press called the race for Jones, who won largely on the strength of black turnout.
“Roy Moore said the only time America was great was back when slavery existed, and we don’t want nothing to do with that dude,” said Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, an activist in Dothan. “That dude trying to make us slaves.”
Glasgow led a county-wide canvassing effort here in Houston County for Reed’s Alabama Democratic Conference, the largest Democratic and black organization in Alabama. Old school tactics are being deployed to try to repair the turnout machine that was broken by the Republican waves of the early 2000s.