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Birmingham Barber's Thoughts On Alabama's Special Election


I'm Rachel Martin at WBHM in Birmingham, Ala. And it is voting day here in this state. People are going to the polls today to decide who will be the next senator from Alabama. And this race is far closer than many people ever expected. Much of that is because of the sexual abuse allegations against the Republican candidate in this race. We're talking about Roy Moore. The Democrat in this race, Doug Jones, has a fighting chance in this reliably red state, which is a big deal.

The Jones camp knows, though, it's still an uphill battle and they are playing things very carefully, which apparently means keeping the national media at arm's length. We stopped by one of the Jones campaign offices in Birmingham yesterday afternoon. Volunteers were there working off iPads, making calls to voters and making the case for Doug Jones in the last hours before the vote. And this was an exchange we had with a campaign staffer there named Ebenezer (ph).

EBENEZER: Nice to meet you.

MARTIN: Nice to meet you too. Do you have a minute?

EBENEZER: I do not. But anything - are y'all recording?

MARTIN: We are right now.



MARTIN: We were just hoping to get a lay of the land from you as to how things are going in the final day, what kind of outreach has been happening?

EBENEZER: Yeah, definitely reach out to Sebastian (ph) or press@DougJonesforSenate.com.

MARTIN: So clearly, the Doug Jones camp was not interested in talking with us. There's been a lot of national media attention on this race. And Roy Moore has talked a lot about the fake news media. But it was clear that even the Doug Jones campaign wants to keep the national press at bay. So we left that campaign office and we walked just a few steps down the block where we met a man who says Doug Jones, the Democrat, has distanced himself from voters, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: All right, (unintelligible).

EUGENE JONES: You, what's happening?

MARTIN: His name is Eugene Jones. He owns this old-timey barber shop down the block. And there's a poster on the front door that says your vote matters. Jones has owned this place for 45 years. He follows politics, he cares about this election. He's a Democrat, but he says his party is missing an opportunity here.

JONES: That Democrats, they are a little afraid. They're scared. They're scared to talk, they're scared to get out and just say who they are. They're afraid. The Republicans, they ain't afraid. They'll talk. They'll be crazy but they'll still talk though.

MARTIN: What would you want to hear?

JONES: I just want to hear talk about the issues, talk about the country, talk about what you're going to do. Just talk. Tell people what you're going to do for them. And don't be afraid to let people know you are a Democrat. Doug Jones, like, he's afraid to let folks know he's a Democrat. The Republicans, Moore, Donald Trump, they're not afraid. And that's what I like about Trump. He's not afraid. He might say some stuff. He'll say it.

MARTIN: Did you vote for Donald Trump?

JONES: No. And I'm going to show you something. Where is it? I'm going to show you my voter ID card and what it says. It says Eugene Jones is what?

MARTIN: Above average.

JONES: That's how much I vote. I'll vote for a dog race. You've got to vote in this country here. You've got to.

MARTIN: I asked Eugene why he thinks that Roy Moore still appeals to so many people in Alabama, despite the allegations of sexual abuse and harassment.

JONES: Because this is a red state. The Republican Party in Alabama have always stuck together. And they've said they don't care if Moore's guilty. They're still going to vote for Moore. They've said it. They don't want a Democrat in their seat. It's been about 20-something years since a Democrat had that seat. So it's been a lot of years. And Alabama is missing out on so much opportunity because people from overseas want to come here and build factories and automobile factories. And with all this nonsense going on, they don't want to come.

MARTIN: Did you grow up here?

JONES: Yes. And when I came back from Vietnam, I was a different person. When I came back, I didn't even care anymore. I had done a lot, had seen a lot and had been through a lot. So there was nothing that white people could scare me with. I wasn't afraid anymore. But before I left, I was afraid. I was afraid of white folks because they were crazy. They were killing black people just for nothing. And my mama and daddy knew that and they protected me. That's why they said, when the night time comes, be home, boy.

Don't be out there in the streets at night because they know white people are going to round you up and they're going to blame you for doing stuff that they did. And that's what they did back in the '50s and '60s. Ask me how I know - because I was there. So we're missing out in Alabama, though. We have the wrong people in office.

MARTIN: Do you think Doug Jones is the right Democrat to be running in this moment?

JONES: Well, you know, Doug loves to talk about what he did back in the '60s with the church bombing and stuff like that.

MARTIN: The church bombing he's talking about, the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Doug Jones prosecuted the KKK members who killed those four little girls.

JONES: He loves to talk about that. I just want Doug to - Doug doesn't ever talk about anything else but the church bombing. He just needs to come up with something else. He needs to - I just don't know. And he'd be afraid every time he comes down here on Fourth Avenue. He'd be afraid to come down here.

MARTIN: Why do you think he's afraid?

JONES: Because this is the black area down here.

MARTIN: But how do you - how can you tell he's afraid?

JONES: By how he acts - scary. He asks scared. He came into the barber shop about a month ago and he wouldn't even take any questions. He was moving just that fast. And he had four, five people with him. They're pulling on him because they don't want you to ask him any questions. Every time he comes here, he doesn't ever stay but a minute and he's gone. He just wants to take a picture and go. And that's what I like about Donald Trump. He will talk, man. That boy will talk. I didn't vote for Trump, but I like him though.

I like his attitude. He's not afraid. But I don't see that in Doug, though. But I'm going to vote for Doug, though. I'm voting for Doug tomorrow.

MARTIN: So Mary Louise, that's the conversation I had with Eugene Jones yesterday. Lifelong Alabama resident, owner of the Talk of the Town Barber shop here in Birmingham. And you can hear he is voting for Doug Jones no question. But is he excited to cast that ballot? Not necessarily.


Yeah, which is so fascinating because you can hear this is a guy who loves politics. He said he'd vote in a dog race. He wants to vote.

MARTIN: Right, right. He is politically engaged. So if he's hesitant about Jones, what does that mean for the other Democrats, especially black Democrats who could be the key to whether he can pull this thing off?

KELLY: All right, thanks Rachel.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

KELLY: That's our co-host Rachel Martin reporting all day today from Birmingham, Ala. where the voters go to the polls today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Arezou Rezvani is a senior editor for NPR's Morning Edition and founding editor of Up First, NPR's daily news podcast.
Taylor Haney is a producer and director for NPR's Morning Edition and Up First.