Several top-tier African-American Democratic lawmakers will descend on Alabama this weekend to rally supporters for Doug Jones ahead of the Senate special election Tuesday -- a rarity for a campaign that has sought to maintain a distinctly local flavor.
The effort is being spearheaded by Rep. Terri Sewell, the sole Democrat among Alabama's congressional delegation. Joining her will be Reps. John Lewis of Georgia, Sanford Bishop of Georgia and Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
Rep. John Lewis is among those visiting to back Jones against Roy Moore
Jones needs to boost African-American turnout if he is to win
They will fan out across the state, with events slated for Sunday in Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville and Selma. Booker is also scheduled for stops Saturday in Montgomery and Tuskegee.
Those events will be aimed at turning out African-American voters, who polling suggests would overwhelmingly support Jones -- if they vote.
Southern Democrats have recently struggled with African-American turnout in elections without Barack Obama on the ballot, and encouraging voter participation is challenging overall in a special election.
As they aim to energize African-American voters, however, appearances by a slate of Democrats with national profiles could also fuel attacks on Jones, who Republican Roy Moore's campaign has sought to portray as a pawn of the national Democratic Party. Moore tweeted Friday that he faces attacks from "the powerful Obama-Clinton Machine" backing Jones.
Wary of that line of attack, national Democrats have kept Jones at arm's length, with high-wattage party surrogates remaining benched. Sewell's efforts mark a departure from that approach, although she sought to recruit colleagues who would have some connection to Alabama or the voters there, her office said.
"Rep. Sewell wants to bring leaders down to Alabama who have a history in the state and who can speak to the concerns of Alabama voters," said her spokesman Chris MacKenzie.
Lewis, MacKenzie added, is a "perfect example: He was a leader of the voting rights movement in Alabama, and everyone knows his name in Representative Sewell's district."
Lewis is skipping a previously scheduled appearance at the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum due to the planned attendance of President Donald Trump.
Other surrogates are more loosely tied to Alabama: Booker was included because of his commitment to criminal justice reform, an issue Sewell believes is of particular interest to voters in Alabama.
Patrick's participation was not coordinated by Sewell; instead, the former governor accepted an invitation from Sewell's constituents in Perry County, Alabama, MacKenzie said.
Bringing in such national Democratic surrogates is "high-risk, high-reward," said David Mowery, an Alabama political consultant. "It gives people a reason to say, 'This guy says he's a moderate, but look who he's truckin' with.' "
But Democrats will need to see extremely high turnout from African-American voters for Jones to win, Mowery added. "The calculus is very, very difficult," he said.