Jesse Smith, the Democratic candidate who has run against U.S Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, for the last two elections, recently announced his plans to move to California. The move has left Alabama Democrats searching for a new candidate in what is one of the most favorable political environments for the party in decades.
“We're looking for a candidate that wants to be visible and effective and maybe complement Doug Jones,” said Calhoun County Democratic chair Sheila Gilbert, referring to the U.S. Senate candidate who became the first Alabama Democrat elected to the body in more than 25 years.
Gilbert said the Calhoun County Democratic Party has received several calls from community members interested in running for the office.
Nancy Worley, the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, said several groups throughout the district are in the process of identifying candidates, and many people have called the party headquarters asking about qualifying requirements.
“A lot of people are looking at the Bentley, Moore and Hubbard Republican debacle and saying we certainly can govern better than this as Democrats,” Worley said. “I think that there's a lot of hope.”
For a period in 2016, all three branches of Alabama government at that time were entrenched in scandal: Gov. Robert Bentley was responding to allegations of sexual misconduct, House Speaker Mike Hubbard faced felony corruption charges and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended for an order opposing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.
Both Gilbert and Worley declined to name any potential candidates to run against Rogers. According to Worley, the qualifying period for the Democrats in that race runs from Monday to Feb. 9.
Worley and Gilbert agreed that Jones’ win over the former chief justice has helped spur interest among candidates for the Third Congressional District, which covers a swath of eastern Alabama that includes Centre, Sylacauga, Auburn and Tuskegee.
Worley also pointed to a Republican agenda in Washington and Montgomery that she described as “pro-rich and anti-working people.”
“It made a lot of people sit up and say, ‘You know, I believe in what the Democrats support. Therefore, I’m going to consider running for this,’” Worley said.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Smith said the state Democratic Party’s support is imperative for the candidate who takes up the campaign. Unlike in a statewide election, Smith said, his replacement will work within a district made intensely conservative through gerrymandering.
Smith said Rogers has a small but ardent base, and any challenger will have to expand the electorate to beat him.
“That person has to be a leader,” Smith said.
Looking at Jones’ race against Republican candidate Roy Moore in the Dec. 12 election, only Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District — generally Selma, Tuscaloosa and parts of Birmingham — went for Jones. But Rogers’ district was nearly split, with Moore receiving 50.7 percent of the votes to Jones’ 47.8 percent, according to election data organization Decision Desk HQ.
Efforts to reach Rogers’ staff for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.