BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) – Former Vice President Joe Biden hit the campaign trail Tuesday for Doug Jones, a rare Democrat who may have a shot at the U.S. Senate seat in Alabama vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Jones, a longtime federal prosecutor, will face Republican Roy Moore in the Dec. 12 special election.
Moore, who was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for violating federal orders, citing his private religious objections, defeated incumbent appointed Senator Luther Strange in the Sept. 27 Republican primary. President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and many other powerful Republicans in Congress backed Strange, due to Moore’s contentious history, leading some pundits to say that Jones may have a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat in the Deep South.
Alabama Democrats queued for more than two hours Tuesday under the hot sun outside the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center until Biden and Jones took the stage.
Jones spoke first, of his childhood, growing up the son and grandson of a steelworker and coalminer in Fairfield, just outside of Birmingham city limits.
He said his parents and grandfather taught him the values he hopes to bring to the Senate. “They are values of honesty, integrity and character, something that we desperately need in the State of Alabama. I have, like Joe, over the last years in my career fought for civil rights. I have fought for women’s rights and I have done everything I can to fight for equality for every person in the State of Alabama.”
He implicitly endorsed the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which Republicans vowed, and failed, to repeal.
“I want to try to make sure we have health care for everyone, that’s affordable, that people don’t have to go into the bankruptcy court to pay medical bills, that single moms don’t have to take their children to the emergency rooms for health care, that we can keep our rural hospitals open,” he said.
“Folks, I’ve got to tell you that I took these same values to the United States Attorney’s Office, where we coordinated a task force that convicted Eric Rudolph for bombing a women’s clinic and where we investigated the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.”
Jones in 2001 and 2002 secured the conviction of two Klan members whose bomb killed four black children at the church in Birmingham, a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement.
“You know, people told me time and time again that this race is a long shot, but folks, it’s not the first time I’ve heard that something I want to do, something I feel passionate about, is a long shot,” Jones said.
“They told me in 1997 that prosecuting a case that was almost 40 years old is a long shot, but you know what? When you are on the right side of history and the right side of justice, you can do anything. I truly believe that this campaign is on the right side of history. We are on the right side of justice, we are on the right side of respect and fairness and I can tell you Roy Moore is not on the right side of any of those things.”
Jones called Biden his role model as he introduced him. The two-term vice president said he and Jones go back a long time.
“I’ll tell you this, not all candidates are created equal. I can count on two hands the people I have campaigned for who have as much integrity, as much courage and a sense of duty and honor that Doug has,” Biden told he crowd.
He continued, “Folks, you would expect me to say this, but you know it’s true. Doug possesses what the American political leaders need today. It’s become so nasty, so mean-spirited, such a mean-spirited political environment. Today, everything is a personal attack. You can’t reach a consensus when you start off a discussion attacking the other person’s motive.”
Biden said he learned a long time ago that it’s OK to question a person’s judgment, but never appropriate to question their motives.
“Folks, there is a reason why every time there was a crisis on Capitol Hill I’d get sent up. Because I never questioned the motive, as obvious as it may seem to me, of the opposition; they knew I respected them and although we disagreed on the issues, we were able to get some things done because they trusted me. I didn’t agree with them at all, but they trusted me. That’s what this guy will bring. He will treat everyone, everybody with dignity and respect.”
In a traditional appeal to motherhood, Biden said his mother told him: “Joe, you are defined by your courage and you are redeemed by your loyalty.” He said Jones answered that call as a U.S. attorney when he prosecuted the 16th Street Baptist Church bombers.
Some family members of the children killed that day were in the crowd Tuesday.
Biden acknowledged them, saying, “It’s not easy for them to be here because I’ve lost two children and I want to tell you, as worthy as it is when they are honored and recognized, it brings it all back like it happened yesterday.”
Beau Biden, the former attorney general of Delaware and Biden’s son, died at 46 in 2015. His death was believed to be a major reason why Biden chose not to run for president in 2016.
Biden said Jones prosecuted the church bombers to take away the nearly 40 years of “stain and pain” in Alabama until the case was prosecuted.
“Doug said, ‘No More’. The Klan needed to know that justice would follow them to the gates of hell if need be. It wasn’t just his courage and commitment or persistence, but also his keen mind. This is a smart guy. It helps to be smart. But most of all, it was his heart. Justice was delayed, but could not be denied”
Hitting another traditional chord in U.S. politics, Biden said: “You know, I’m always referred to as Middle-Class Joe in the press. They say that in D.C. because they think I’m not sophisticated, but I’m pretty sophisticated about what built this country. When the middle class does well, the wealthy do very well and the poor have a way up.”
However, he said, “We no longer have the largest middle class in the world, but that’s what built this country. When the middle class is strong, we have political stability and we have social stability.”
Biden closed by saying: “There is political gold in being honest and straight, like this guy. I am honored, and I mean that sincerely, to be campaigning for Doug. Because I know the single motivating principle for me is dignity. Everybody is entitled to be treated with dignity. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s not a Democrat or Republican position, that’s America, that’s Alabama, that’s who this guy is.”