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Can Democrat Doug Jones pull off an upset in Alabama?

Who is Doug Jones?

Doug Jones is a former U.S. attorney and current Democratic candidate for the Alabama senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions.

Is there a chance Doug Jones can win?

He'll have his work cut out for him. President Trump is popular in Alabama and has said he'll campaign for the Republican candidate, Roy Moore, who won last week's GOP primary.

Beyond that, Alabama is one of the most Republican states in the country, and national Democrats may be wary of investing there. A Democrat hasn't represented Alabama in the U.S. Senate since 1996, and since then, the party has mostly been content to let the GOP dominate the state.

But does Jones have a chance? The short answer is he really might.

Who is Roy Moore, Alabama's GOP Senate candidate? 02:07

Why is that?

Jones had a sterling record as a U.S. attorney, and is best know for successfully prosecuting Frank Cherry and Thomas Blanton for their role in the 16th Street Bombing in Birmingham, where the Ku Klux Klan murdered four black girls in 1963. He also led the prosecution of Eric Rudolph, the domestic terrorist who bombed the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

The 63-year-old Jones was also an aide to the last Democrat to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate, Howell Heflin. Had Heflin decided to run again in 1996, there's a good chance he would have been re-elected. And Jones, who sometimes says he's running for "Howell Heflin's seat," might just pull of the upset if he follows his old mentor's playbook.

There's also the flip side of this equation, which is Roy Moore. Moore has an enthusiastic following among the state's social conservatives and easily vanquished Luther Strange, the mainstream GOP pick backed by Mr. Trump, in last week's primary.

However, he is also a controversial figure who hews far to the right of the national party on social issues. He's also no stranger to incendiary comments, such as his contention that the 9/11 attacks might have been divine punishment for America's sins. And he's been effectively booted from the state's supreme court twice, once for refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments he'd commissioned, and the second time for not acknowledging that gay marriage had been legalized.

Moore has also fared worse than other Republicans when his name has been on the ballot in a general election. In 2012, for example, he won only 51.8 percent of the vote when he ran for chief justice for the Alabama supreme court. To put that result in perspective, GOP presidential nominee won the state with over 60 percent of the vote.

Make no mistake: Moore has a definite edge when it comes to the race. But his victory was enough for the Republican pollster Whit Ayers to tell CNBC that that the seat may now be "in play." Given how few people typically turn out to vote in special elections, they're notoriously difficult to poll, but there have been some encouraging signs for Jones.

What's holding Jones back?

There are probably a non-insignificant number of moderate Republicans who find Moore embarrassing and are open to voting for Jones. On the other hand, Jones has a few major liabilities beyond the state's Republican tilt: abortion and Chuck Schumer.

Jones is staunchly pro-choice in a state that broadly abhors abortion. And even Republicans and Republican-leaning voters in Alabama who are turned off by Moore will likely be wary of giving another vote to Schumer's Democratic minority on issues like judges and health care. Jones has also said that he would have voted against Jeff Sessions confirmation as attorney general, which is not a popular position to take in Alabama.

"It would it be like pulling an inside straight three times in a row," conservative writer and former Alabama congressional candidate Quin Hillyer told CBS News about Jones chances of winning. "It's possible but very doubtful. But he has a better chance (against Moore) than he would against any other Republican."

What could change the state of the race?

For one thing, the election isn't until December, which means there's any number of things that could affect the outcome. For example, the GOP-led Congress could pass tax reform in that time. Or it could not. And it's difficult to foresee how either outcome would decidedly affect the race.

We could also see developments in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump associates, or an unforeseen event that causes Mr. Trump's approval rating to spike.

Again, it's all very hard to predict this far out. But for the time being, it would seem Jones really could have a chance at pulling out the upset here. 

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