Democrat Doug Jones risks his Alabama Senate seat over the shutdown and the wall
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Democrat Doug Jones risks his Alabama Senate seat over the shutdown and the wall

  • NEW YORK TIMES / 2018

    Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) arrives to a hearing about homeland threats before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2018. For Jones, the fight over the shutdown, in a state where President Donald Trump is popular and many federal workers live, is a reminder that his party’s views are out of step back home.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. >> After Doug Jones scored an upset win in the Alabama Senate race in 2017, elated Democrats nationwide dreamed of winning in other deeply red corners of the country. Jones seemed to offer a model, rejecting labels like progressive or conservative and calling himself a “Doug Jones Democrat.”

Now, as the longest government shutdown in history rolls into a fourth week, Jones finds himself holding the same position as Nancy Pelosi, the liberal House speaker: Reopen the government, then negotiate on border security.

Jones is the only red-state Senate Democrat up for re-election in 2020. By taking on President Donald Trump and the border wall, which are both popular in Alabama, and refusing to give ground on the shutdown, the senator may be the last “Doug Jones Democrat” to win here anytime soon.

Alabama has one of the largest groups of federal workers in the country, and the economic pain of those who are out of work because of the shutdown is rippling through local businesses across the state.

“I voted for Jones, I did,” said Ann Lynch, an 86-year-old retired schoolteacher, as she did her grocery shopping in Huntsville, where more than half the local economy is tied to federal spending. “But he doesn’t support the wall. I don’t like that, of course. I think we need it. Trump knows we need it.”

Jones’ opposition also underscores the challenge Trump faces in fulfilling one of his key campaign promises, and the fierce partisanship that has come to define the stalled shutdown negotiations. If the president can’t convince a Democrat from Alabama — the most vulnerable senator up for re-election in 2020 — to back his wall, who can he sway?

“I’m just not going to throw money at anybody who is with a gun to my head,” Jones said, referring to Trump’s $5.7 billion request for the wall. “Let’s get the government open.”

In Huntsville, the effect of empty offices at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on the Army’s Redstone Arsenal base has rippled through the contractors, restaurants and hotels that power Rocket City.

“For us, because we’re a small town, the shutdown is kind of difficult. But there’s also things in politics that may be worth doing,” said Angie Gates, whose small family restaurant has lost patrons. “If Doug Jones doesn’t support the wall, I don’t support him.”

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