Democrats weigh how to best help Alabama Senate candidate Doug Jones

PHOTO: Democrat Doug Jones speaks at a campaign rally the race to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions former Senate seat, Oct. 3, 2017, in Birmingham, Ala. PlayBrynn Anderson/AP
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As Republicans continue to disagree about how best to pivot in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Roy Moore, Democrats in Washington D.C. have largely decided to stay clear from the Alabama special election next month and let their party’s nominee, Doug Jones, run his own campaign.

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The decision from some national organizations to hold back could be a strategic one, but smaller, more grassroots groups on the left worry the party as a whole is squandering a unique moment to build out their infrastructure and communities in a deep red-state.

“[Jones] is raising tremendous money without any help from the Democratic organizations,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Monday. “When they ask us for help, we’ll do it, but it’s been an Alabama race, period.”

Staff at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee echoed the Minority Leader and told ABC News that if Jones asked for last-minute financial or volunteer help they could still step in. They added that, for now, his team was in good shape and had enough money, they said, to keep campaign ads on the air through next month’s highly-publicized special election.

Beth Clayton, the national committeewoman for Alabama Young Democrats, during a phone interview with ABC News, said she worried an influx of outside money could backfire.

Clayton wants to make sure Jones' campaign has the resources it needs to capitalize on this moment. However, she keenly remembers the Georgia 6th Congressional District special election over the summer in which an infusion of millions in donations and heightened attention from Democrats across the nation potentially hurt the Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, with local voters.

“I think [Jones] has a fantastic chance, but I don’t know what the impact would be of national money coming in,” Clayton, who has been volunteering for Jones, told ABC News. “I think here in Alabama, people do not necessarily want people to feel like D.C. is coming in and telling them how to vote.”

Clayton also cited the Republican primary in Alabama and posited that the state's voters doubled-down on Moore, in part, because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spent money for his opponent.

“People here want to feel like it’s our election, it’s our decision. If people are seeing Chuck Schumer, well, that does not sell well down here. Those are not names people identify with,” she said.

The race in Alabama was already more competitive than expected.

With a strong candidate in Jones and Moore’s history of divisive, controversial statements, Democrats saw a possible — albeit, long-shot — path to victory, even before the allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore broke in the news last week.

A former Alabama U.S. attorney well-known in the state for prosecuting Ku Klux Klan members in 2002 who were responsible for the historic 1963 Birmingham church bombing, Jones has run a campaign focused on jobs and health care and taken advantage of both the energy and small dollar fundraising of networks on the left as well as his appeal to both independents and moderate Republicans.

Still, advisers working closely with the National Democratic Committee expressed concerns similar to Clayton’s.

One top Democratic adviser said while Jones may be closing a gap, an influx of formal party money now would unlikely be what ends up tipping this race.

Neil Sroka, the communications director at Democracy for America pushed back.

“I think that is an excuse for not investing in the race,” Sroka told ABC over the phone. “Sure, if it is just a bunch of DC hacks parachuting in and dropping a boat-load on ads, yes, that probably is not going to be super helpful, but that is not a reason to sit out the race, that is a reason to find new ways to support a race like the one Doug Jones is running.”

The group has been fundraising for Jones for months and said this past week only changed their sense of urgency.

Sroka argued that a rare competitive race like this one is an opportunity for the party to further enthuse and unite Democratic-leaning voters in the state.

“I think is a call for Democrats to do something different and actually invest money in the ground-game, not just for one election but for long term gains,” he added. “There are a whole lot of [Alabama] voters who have never been talked to, never been messaged to, never been encouraged to get out and vote and build power in their own communities.”

MoveOn.org, another national, left-leaning group, said they have 43,000 members in Alabama. Ben Wikler, the organization's Washington director, said the organization’s members from around the country have been making contributions to Jones’ campaign since he announced, but he stressed, “The volunteer energy from grassroots Alabamans will be the fundamental shoulder of this campaign.”

“Support for good candidates [running] against predatory, anti-constitutional demagogues is always a good thing, but this is fundamentally about a basic decision Alabama is going to make for itself,” Wikler said. “The most powerful knock on your door always comes from your neighbor. For MoveOn members around the country, the best thing they can do is text a friend in Alabama and make sure they know where to sign up to volunteer.”

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