Can Doug Jones be the Guy Hunt of Democrats?

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This might just be a race.

Way back in 1986, when dinosaurs and Democrats roamed Alabama, a Primitive Baptist preacher and Amway salesman wanted to be governor.

And everybody laughed.

Guy Hunt was a graying Gomer Pyle, a perennial candidate who talked of having "a good work ethnic." And he was a Republican, which was the kiss of death. Republicans couldn't get to 40 percent in the previous gubernatorial race.

The party was in shambles, the state solidly Democratic, and it hadn't elected a Republican leader since Reconstruction.

Guy Hunt? Right. The guy couldn't get a minute of media attention. So-called experts said he had a better chance of getting hit by a bus. He couldn't even draw a crowd at the All Steak in Cullman, his home county.

And he was facing two big guns.

There was Charles Graddick, the firebrand Democratic Attorney General known as "Charcoal Charlie" because he'd as soon electrocute a guy as look at him.

"I'll fry them until their eyeballs pop out and you can smell their flesh burn," he vowed. How, you may ask, could he lose?

Then there was Bill Baxley, the Lieutenant Governor who, as Attorney General, had prosecuted the first of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombers. As heir apparent, some say chosen successor to Gov. George Wallace, he'd have to get caught screwing around with someone who was not his wife. And using a state car to do it.

And then. Whoops. That's what he did.

Ugly wasn't the word for what this thing would become. The two fought like dark princes battling for the throne they felt entitled to sit upon. It was a bloodbath.

Graddick won the nomination but the party said he broke rules by encouraging Republicans to vote in the primary. In the end the Dems put Baxley on the ballot.

Which was a disaster. Hunt, the impossible candidate from Holly Pond, became governor.

Shazam!

can-doug-jones-be-the-guy-hunt-of-democrats photo 1Doug Jones and the late Gov. Guy Hunt. 

It didn't necessarily launch the GOP takeover of Alabama, but it christened it like a bottle against the hull.

Which brings us to ... now. And the race for Alabama's Senate seat.

The Democratic Party is in shambles. Republicans hold a supermajority in the Legislature, and no Democrat holds statewide office.

Could Doug Jones, the Democrat in this race, the candidate who can't get money or respect, be the Guy Hunt in this race?

He'll face either Sen. Luther Strange or former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, depending who wins the GOP runoff Sept. 26.

Neither of those is screwing around in a state car, as far as we know. But Strange has been unpleasantly linked to both Robert Bentley and Mitch McConnell, and that's about the same thing. Moore has twice been booted off the High Court, and likes to mix religion with politics.

At least one poll indicates Jones - a former U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the last of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombers - could make it close against either Strange or Moore.

Which is remarkable since Moore has collected almost twice the campaign cash as Jones, and Strange, with $2.9 million, has 10 times as much.

I should point out that anyone who banks on polls these days does it at their own peril, and if you believe a poll in campaign season you're either paying for it or you're going to.

But this poll, a landline poll with a margin of error of 4.8 conducted by Emerson College in Boston, found Jones in a statistical dead heat with either Republican.

Can this be 1986 again?

I don't know, but it's a race few saw coming.

Shazam!

John Archibald's column appears in The Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times, the Mobile Register and AL.com. Write him at jarchibald@al.com.

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