BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — When Rep. Terri A. Sewell joined Doug Jones on the campaign trail in Alabama, she would often say she needed help in Washington, D.C., as the lone Democrat in the delegation.
Standing onstage here with Jones as he celebrated his historic win over Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race Tuesday night, Sewell interjected at one point, yelling, “Help is on the way!”
She has been the only Democrat in the Alabama delegation since she was first elected in 2010. And it’s been 25 years since the state elected a Democrat to the Senate (that Democrat, Richard C. Shelby, became a Republican two years later).
Sewell’s 7th District includes Selma, one of the epicenters of the civil rights movement. It’s where John Lewis, now a Democratic congressman from Georgia, and others were beaten by state troopers as they attempted to march to Montgomery in 1965.
Sewell joined Jones in Selma on Saturday as he spoke to members of the historic Brown Chapel AME Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. often spoke.
“I am so excited. We worked so hard. … I’m a little overwhelmed actually,” she said as she left Jones’ election night party around 11 p.m. “Because I’ve always known that the Alabama I grew up in, the people I know, are really decent people who want better for themselves and their children.”
Watch: Scenes From Doug Jones' Election Night Rally
A pivotal role
Her support for Jones dates back to before the August primary, when she endorsed him, saying he shared “the Democratic values that my constituents and I hold dear.” A Sewell aide estimated she has attended and hosted more than 20 events for Jones, with many in African-American churches.
Sewell did not have a role in strategic decision-making in Jones’ race, according to a source with the campaign. But she served as an effective surrogate.
“Congresswoman Sewell is a great leader for Alabama and a friend of Doug Jones and the Jones campaign and was very helpful to us,” campaign chairman Giles Perkins said.
High black voter turnout was key to Jones’ stunning win. African-Americans make up roughly 25 percent of registered voters in the state, but accounted for 30 percent of the electorate Tuesday. And they almost unanimously supported Jones, according to exit polls.
Sewell also worked to bring in support from the nation’s capital.
National Democrats were hesitant to get involved in the race in deep-red Alabama. But they eventually did, especially when the race tightened after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct by Moore came to light.
Sewell expressed gratitude Tuesday night for the national assist that ultimately benefitted Jones’ campaign. She specifically mentioned help that came in from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
DNC Chairman Tom Perez said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday that the committee invested close to $1 million on the race, focusing on turning out African-American and millennial voters. He said minority-owned vendors helped to get out the vote.
Perez also said the committee sent over a million texts to volunteers and voters, and estimated its push reached 1.5 million voters.
Getting the W
“Early on, they listened to me. And I told them we could do this and it’s not a waste of money to put it in Alabama. That I believe in this state,” Sewell said. “And they trusted me and we did and we won. And I’m just so excited.”
Sewell also rallied her fellow African-American Democratic colleagues in Congress, and said they all “came to the rescue.”
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and House lawmakers including Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric L. Richmond and Rep. Sanford D. Bishop of Georgia traveled to Alabama to campaign for Jones over the weekend. Sewell said Lewis, Reps. Maxine Waters of California and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas phoned into Alabama radio stations Tuesday to help turn out voters.
But Sewell said Jones needed more than just a high-African American turnout to win.
“We don’t make up enough to actually win,” Sewell said. “So this was a real show of coalition politics, where we were able to hobble together [the] traditional base with moderate Republicans, with suburban women, with millennials and Gen-X.”
Sewell especially stressed the importance of female voters in the race. Exit polls showed that nearly 60 percent of them supported Jones.
The Jones campaign conducted focus outreach aimed at female voters, hosting “Women Wednesdays” events leading up to the election. Those included phone banking, sending postcards, and events with Jones’ wife, Louise.
For Sewell, the Alabama Senate special election previews a “watershed” year for Democrats in 2018.
As she turned a corner exiting the hotel, she ran into Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox, and cheered, “Woo! We can even have a Democratic governor! Are you psyched or what?” (Maddox announced a gubernatorial bid in October.)
Supporters greeted Sewell as she left the event, with hugs and taking pictures. One woman embraced her, both excitedly talking about the results and Alabama’s new Democratic senator-elect.
The woman then leaned closer to the congresswoman and said, “You next.”
“Oh, no,” Sewell responded with a laugh. “I’m happy right here.”
Simone Pathé contributed to this report.