BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — For years Doug Jones would tell friends — trying to persuade them to run for political office — that the notion that a Democrat could not win in deeply conservative Alabama would remain a self-fulfilling prophecy unless somebody tried.
"Some of those same people started saying, 'Well, OK Doug if you really mean this, it's time. This is the best opportunity,' " he recalled in an interview with The Associated Press.
After pulling off an improbable upset in the race for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, Jones said he believes his victory — helped by his campaign's deep pockets and by his opponent's scandal — signaled that voters may be looking for less divisiveness and vitriol.
"I think this election shows that people across this country want to see people work together," Jones said.
Jones defeated firebrand jurist Roy Moore, by 20,000 votes, or 1.5 percent, to become the first Democrat elected to represent Alabama in the Senate in a quarter-century.
Jones told The Associated Press that what some described as his quest began on his 63rd birthday when he sat down with strategists Joe Trippi and Giles Perkins, and they mapped out where they thought the voting could be energized. Jones said he believed Moore was a weak candidate. Then, in November, a woman named Leigh Corfman made a shocking allegation that Roy Moore had asked her out and then touched her in a sexual fashion when she was just 14 and he was 32. Other women stepped forward with similar claims.
Moore has not yet ceded the race, saying he wanted to see if last-minute ballots might trigger an automatic recount. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders notes that President Donald Trump has already called Jones to congratulate him on his victory and to express a willingness to work with him in Washington.
As for when Moore should deliver a concession speech, Sanders says it sounds like that "should have already taken place." Sanders says she agrees that the numbers show Jones won fair and square.
The Alabama race became largely a referendum on Moore. Jones said at times Tuesday night he was convinced he had lost and had prepared a concession speech.
Jones, a federal prosecutor, had tried to emphasize economic issues, such as maintaining the Children's Health Insurance Program that provides health care funding for 150,000 Alabama children.
Jones is in favor of abortion rights and criticized Trump's decision to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. Jones told The Associated Press that he was advised to adjust his stances to boost his chances of winning but refused.
"Everyone felt like I needed to be someone I was not to try to get votes. I promised myself I would not do that. I promised my wife I would not do that," Jones said.
Jones will take office in a state where nearly half of voters did not cast a ballot for him and Republicans are gunning to unseat him in 2020. To voters who opposed him he says, "Let's just talk."
"I've said it over and over again that the people of this state have more in common than we have to divide us."
He said to win in the Deep South, he believes Democrats need to get back to their roots on economic issues and try, as much as they can, not to be defined on social issues.
"I respect the importance of those issues, but those issues don't always put meat on the table. They don't educate your kids. They don't lift your wages and they damn sure don't get you health care," Jones said.