Politics

Who the heck is Doug Jones, anyway? Five things to know about Alabama’s new senator

Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate for US Senate in Alabama.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate for US Senate in Alabama.

In Tuesday’s US Senate election in Alabama, voters were presented with two very different choices to fill Jeff Sessions’ US Senate seat: Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones.

Although many media headlines have focused on Moore recently amid allegations of sexual misconduct with teen girls, not much has been reported on Jones, who was declared the winner in the stunning race.

So who is the Democrat who will now be representing deeply conservative Alabama? Here’s a quick rundown of what you should know about Jones.

1. He prosecuted members of the Ku Klux Klan

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As a US attorney for Alabama from 1997 to the early 2000s, Jones is best known for helping convict two Ku Klux Klan members — Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry — responsible for killing four black children in the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church.

After the 1963 bombing, investigators had a list of Klan suspects that included Cherry and Blanton, plus Robert Chambliss and Herman Frank Cash — all active in a Klan group with a reputation for violence.

The investigation went cold for years until Bill Baxley, then attorney general for Alabama, reopened it and prosecuted Chambliss, who was convicted in 1977. (Jones says he cut classes as a law student at Samford University to watch the trial.)

But then the case went dormant again, and the fact that other known suspects were never prosecuted became a sore point within Birmingham’s black community. In 1993, then-FBI agent Robert Langford heard complaints during a meeting with black pastors, and a renewed investigation was underway by the time Jones in 1997 was appointed as US attorney in Birmingham by former president Bill Clinton, according to the Associated Press.

Blanton and Cherry were indicted on state murder charges in 2000, and Jones received a special appointment to oversee the prosecution. He led a team of federal and state attorneys during trials that resulted in the convictions of Blanton in 2001 and Cherry in 2002, according to the AP.

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“Whether it’s racial issues, whether it’s gender issues, whether it is terrorist activities similar to what Mr. Blanton perpetrated in 1963, the message is that we have to stop the hate and we will punish those who kill or maim in the name of hate,” Jones reportedly said at the hearing.

Jones told the US House Judiciary Committee in June 2007 that his involvement with the case, from watching the Chambliss trial to prosecuting Blanton and Cherry, was “a remarkable journey.”

“I never in my wildest imagination dreamed that one day this case and my legal career would come full circle, giving me the opportunity, some 24 years later, to prosecute the two remaining suspects for a crime that many say changed the course of history,” Jones said, according to his written testimony.

2. He’s tight with Joe Biden

Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke at a rally for Doug Jones on Oct. 3 in Birmingham, Ala.
Brynn Anderson/AP
Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke at a rally for Doug Jones on Oct. 3 in Birmingham, Ala.

In October, the 75-year-old Biden agreed to headline a campaign event with Jones in Birmingham, telling those in attendance that he and Jones “go back a long way — to when I was just elected at 29 years old.”

“I can count on two hands the people I’ve campaigned for that have as much integrity, as much courage, and a sense of honor and duty that Doug has,” Biden said at the rally. “He’s had it since he’s been a kid — well, I say a kid — since he was in law school.

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“I’ve watched him. I’ve seen him,” Biden continued. “And Doug knew that if he ran, he didn’t say it but he knew, I’d be here if he wanted me to be.”

The feeling, apparently, is mutual: Jones led Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign in Alabama, according to The New York Times.

On Monday, Biden again showed his support for Jones.

Biden even brought another powerful friend in to help Jones as his campaign came to a close. Former president Barack Obama joined Biden in recording robocalls telling Alabamians to vote for Jones — which actually created a bit awkwardness for the Democratic candidate, who had tried to project distance from the national party.

3. This was his first run for political office

Although Jones said he’s been interested in politics since he was in law school — he worked as staff counsel for Democratic US Senator Howell Heflin after graduating in the late 1970s — it wasn’t until Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke praised Trump the day after the election that Jones decided he wanted to throw his hat in the ring for Alabama’s gubernatorial race in 2018.

But then Trump tapped Sessions for US attorney general a week and a half later — opening up his US Senate seat and reportedly leading Jones’s friend to implore the longtime attorney to run sooner.

“He said to me, ‘Look, we need to talk about the Senate race. This is where your heart has been, and this is how you help the state of Alabama,’ ” Jones said, according to Newsweek.

At his 63rd birthday party a few days later, Jones said he floated the idea to his friends and family, and after speaking about it with them ultimately decided to run.

“We just hashed it out, we laid out our beliefs about how we could win this race no matter who the nominee was, we talked about how my voice was important to this race,” Jones told Newsweek.

And even if he lost Tuesday’s election, this might not have been the last we saw of Jones: He hinted to Newsweek that he was still eyeing the gubernatorial race next year.

4. Don’t expect him to thank national Democrats for their support

In a state that carried Donald Trump to presidential victory by 28 points and hasn’t elected a Democratic senator in a quarter-century, both Jones and national Democrats have tried to keep Washington’s fingerprints off the race, given the party’s unpopularity in Alabama.

Even with an opponent like Moore, who was twice removed as the state’s top judge and is now accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, Democrats quietly admitted that Jones can’t build a winning coalition if he’s viewed as being tethered too closely to his potential colleagues on Capitol Hill. So Jones has kept his distance, and national party operatives and grass-roots organizations stayed in the background.

And although Democratic heavyweights like former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker appeared with Jones last weekend, the Alabaman’s campaign emphasized that it was Representative Terri Sewell, Alabama’s only Democrat in Congress, who extended the invites.

Meanwhile, national Democrats’ reluctance to get involved was evident in their lack of a major advertising push or cash transfers to the Jones campaign by party committees.

There were no campaign offices financed or staffed by the Democratic National Committee, no national party ads on television — even Jones’s own television ads don’t mention his party.

The state Democratic Party, such as it is, had also been sidelined. ‘‘We just have two paid staffers,’’ and no DNC funding beyond the $10,000 monthly allowance every state party gets nationwide, Alabama Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Worley said.

5. He has a humble family background

Jones didn’t always have an interest in politics. As a young man, he spent time working a union job at a steel mill between school — a job that was influenced by family members’ careers.

Jones’s father worked for US Steel, while his mother was a housewife who took care of him, according to Jones’s US Senate campaign website. Meanwhile, his two grandfathers had manual labor jobs: one was a steelworker, and the other was a coal miner, according to his website.

“The respect I learned for my parents and grandparents — the hard work they did has shaped my respect for those who work to feed a family — and try to make their children’s lives better,” he wrote on his site.

After law school and working under Heflin, Jones began a long-running legal career, with stints as an assistant US attorney, US attorney, and a private defense lawyer before his recent decision to run for political office.

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James Pindell of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.