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The Democrats' Future In Alabama


Being a congressional Democrat from Alabama has been a lonely occupation. Representative Terri Sewell, from the district that includes Selma and parts of Birmingham and Montgomery, was the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation until this week, when Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore for the U.S. Senate. Representative Sewell joins us from her district. Representative Sewell, thanks so much for being with us.

TERRI SEWELL: Well, thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: Doug Jones thanked you specifically for helping bring African-American voters to the polls. Do you want to take a victory lap and tell us how you did it?

SEWELL: (Laughter) Well, listen. This was an amazing victory for Alabama. It was a victory, I think, for decency - common decency. And it shows that Alabama was willing to put principle over party. I was very excited that my district overperformed. And I was particularly excited about the African-American turnout. You know, I think that people understood that the stakes were high. This administration has had a negative effect on our community. It's reversing a lot of the Obama-era progress that we've made. And I'm just very pleased that people showed up and showed out.

SIMON: Was the role of women especially important?

SEWELL: Absolutely. You know, it was shown that Doug received 57 percent of all female votes. And that included 98 percent of the African-American women vote. The issues that matter most to my district affect the family and affect our children. And so I think that you really saw a major outpouring of women, especially African-American women, in this election.

SIMON: On the other hand, as there always is with those journalists, Roy Moore was an especially polarizing figure, even among Republicans. Do you draw any significance from what you were able to accomplish in this election with what you think Democrats ought to be doing for 2018?

SEWELL: I do believe that this is a watershed election for Democrats and that lessons can be learned about coalition building - that even in ruby-red states like Alabama - that Democrats can perform, you know, if we really get out and motivate our traditional base but also partner with and coalition-build with moderate Republicans. I think that the lesson that was learned in this election was that a candidate does matter - who's the candidate matters. But the message matters, as well. The message that Doug talked about was the same, whether he was in an African-American church, a synagogue or a chamber of commerce. And that was a message of unity.

SIMON: Does the national Democratic Party sometimes take the votes of African-Americans for granted?

SEWELL: I do believe that. I also know that generally, you know, oftentimes, our base feels that they are neglected. But I do believe that we can turn that around by directly speaking to our base when it comes to policies that affect the family. So talking about health care and the fact that this administration wants to repeal without having a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, speaking about the ability to have equal funding - public funding for education so that all of our children get to reach their God-given potential.

Those issues, as well as getting us prepared for the future of work, which is going to leave a large swath of rural America behind. I think, you know, talking in terms of workforce development and training opportunities for the future of work was something that Doug spoke very often about. And, you know, now comes the hard part, holding him accountable, as well as all elected officials accountable, to really deliver on those promises.

SIMON: Terri Sewell, representative from Alabama's 7th Congressional District, thanks so much for being with us.

SIMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.