Will Alabama voters wonder whether they will end up with a senator that got hand-picked by Democratic leadership in DC? Doug Jones tried to distance himself from the national party during his special-election campaign to win the vacancy left by Republican Jeff Sessions, but Politico reported last night that the distance turned out to be mighty short. A super-PAC formed to back Jones turns out to be the creation of two major Democratic interest groups:
A mystery super PAC backing Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama is controlled by a pair of groups closely aligned with the national Democratic Party, even as the candidate strives to dissociate himself from Washington interests.
Highway 31, which dropped more than $4.1 million in support of Jones and against Roy Moore ahead of Tuesday’s Senate special election, is a joint project of two of the largest national Democratic super PACs — Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA Action — along with a group of Alabama Democrats, multiple senior officials familiar with the arrangement told POLITICO.
Highway 31 was created in November, Federal Election Commission filings show. Though Birmingham lawyer Edward Still is listed as the group’s treasurer, it was, in fact, founded jointly with Senate Majority PAC, the outside group closely tied to Democratic leadership in the Senate. Highway 31 has been funded jointly by Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA Action, the Democratic super PAC that backed Barack Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, the Democrats briefed on the arrangement told POLITICO.
“Surprise” probably overstates the reality on the ground. Jones denied being tied to national Democrats, even to the point of claiming in campaign ads that he wouldn’t owe anything to Chuck Schumer, as Gabriel DeBenedetti reports, but … come on, man. How many voters really believed that? Of course the national party went all-in to take a seat away from Republicans in a special election. What else were they going to do?
And why would anyone think that Jones wouldn’t take direction from the party’s caucus leader once he got to Washington? As a member of the minority with the least seniority in the chamber, Jones wouldn’t have an opportunity to do anything but take orders from Schumer. That’s just the way the Senate is structured. Roy Moore has a better argument for independence on the basis of Republican pledges to kick him out once he got there. If voters really want a candidate who will have a bad relationship with others, then Moore’s their candidate.
Jones’ claim to distance from national Democrats took another blow yesterday too when Barack Obama and Joe Biden both campaigned for him via robocalls. That’s a curious strategy for a campaign that needs to get disaffected Republicans to cross the party line and support Jones. Needless to say, neither of those men would be terribly popular with Republicans, and those robocalls might end up pushing some of them to either not vote at all or to back Moore as a final response to Obama. The former would be an acceptable alternative to crossover voting, but the risk seems rather high — and perhaps unnecessary, although it could be a sign that their internal polling is less rosy than some of the friendlier results seen over the last few days in media polling.
It’s a good catch by Politico, if a bit late in the cycle to impact the voting today, assuming the news disillusions anyone. The late bids by Obama and Biden might have more impact, but not in the way that Team Jones might hope.