How to beat Roy Moore, according to the guy who nearly did

 In Politics

Democrats haven’t won a statewide election in Alabama in almost a decade. But in 2012, one Democrat almost pulled it off: Bob Vance, a mild-mannered circuit court judge from Birmingham, who came within 4 points of beating none other than Roy Moore.

Now, Democrats are looking back at that state Supreme Court contest for clues on how their Senate nominee, former U.S. attorney Doug Jones, might improve slightly upon Vance’s performance and stage a special election upset in a state long seen as out of reach to the party.

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In an interview with POLITICO, Vance described how he almost toppled Moore five years ago: by combining strong turnout from African-Americans energized by President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign with aggressive outreach to what he called “reasonable conservatives” put off by Moore’s hard-line politics — outreach that was unusually successful in Alabama’s most-educated suburbs, according to a POLITICO analysis of the 2012 returns.

It’s a narrow path, and Vance said it’s not enough for Jones to hammer Moore’s alleged history with young girls. Jones has to convince Alabama Republicans he’s the type of Democrat they could be comfortable crossing party lines to support and remind voters why Moore made them uncomfortable as a candidate even before the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore.

Moore’s Senate race against Jones has attracted much more attention than his previous campaign. But the unusually close 2012 election — one of the worst statewide performances by a Republican in the past decade — outlined exactly what a Democratic win in modern-day Alabama would look like, according to state political strategists and observers.

“He’s very divisive even within the Republican Party,” Vance said of Moore. “That’s why I agreed to run against him.” He added: “I knew there were a lot of establishment Republicans who couldn’t stomach Roy Moore.”

The glaring difference this time, of course, is that there’s no Obama on the ballot to galvanize African-American voters, who regularly make up more than two-thirds of the Democratic vote in the state. But what the Democrats will miss in Obama they hope to make up in intense dislike among black voters of both Moore and President Donald Trump.

Whether that will be enough — Jones is trying with aggressive outreach to black communities and saturation-level advertising — is perhaps the most critical question heading into Tuesday’s election.

“Doug’s task is more difficult because he can’t take the Democratic base for granted given the weird timing of the election,” Vance said. “… I had the luxury of just focusing all my efforts” on crossover voters, Vance continued.

Vance’s GOP outreach paid clear dividends in Alabama’s populous white-collar suburbs in 2012, where he ran well ahead of Obama and Moore fell far behind Mitt Romney.

The most striking contrast was in Mountain Brook, where the Census estimates 85 percent of adults have college degrees — the highest rate in Alabama. Romney took 80 percent of the vote there in 2012, but Moore cratered to 36 percent, with Vance carrying 64 percent in the tony community known as a bastion of business-oriented Republicanism.

In Shelby County, the booming, heavily Republican suburb of Birmingham, Romney beat Obama 77 percent to 22 percent in 2012, but Vance cut Moore’s edge by double digits, to 63-37. Shelby County has the highest share of college-educated whites in Alabama, a key demographic that has moved toward Democrats in the rest of the country in recent years. But they are less numerous in Alabama than in other states, putting a premium on Jones’ efforts to flip them against Moore and make sure they turn out to vote.

Jones’ greatest weapon in his quest to outdo Vance has been an unrelenting salvo of TV ads savaging Moore’s credentials and opening the door to Republican voters. Jones, who rarely mentions that he’s a Democrat, has put Republican voters on the air saying they can’t vote for Moore in the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations against him. Other ads highlight Moore’s votes against sexual assault victims in several state Supreme Court cases. And some highlight Republican Sen. Richard Shelby saying that he would not vote for Moore in the special election. In one of his final ads, Jones pledges to voters that he “will never embarrass you.”

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