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Jones Victory Credited To African-American Voters

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now, a big reason Democrat Doug Jones won a Senate race in Alabama this week was African-American turnout. According to exit polls, 29 percent of those voting in that special election were black. Almost all went for Jones. Sheila Tyson helped lead the get-out-the-vote effort. She's a Birmingham city councilwoman and also a veteran community organizer, and she joins us.

Sheila Tyson, good morning.

SHEILA TYSON: Good morning.

GREENE: So this was an off-year special election in a deep red state. How did you keep canvassers motivated to keep going out, knocking on doors and getting people to come and vote?

TYSON: Well, you know, we had some very tough issues here in the state of Alabama. We had - we do not have Medicaid expansion. They never did get it out the whole time that the president - Barack Obama was in office. We also - we do not have - they turned down our increase in minimum wage. We're still at $7.25. And the jobs that they are bringing into the state of Alabama, they don't have paid leave of absence, they're not promoting women the way they should, and it's not fair wages for all black women.

GREENE: Wow, so...

TYSON: There are a lot of issues on the table.

GREENE: So when you were at someone's door - and I know you went door to door - you were not talking so much about Roy Moore and all of those allegations or Doug Jones. You were talking about issues in people's lives.

TYSON: Absolutely, and issues that really affects the quality of life that you're trying to live, especially in the rural areas here in the state of Alabama.

GREENE: Well, I mean, this seemed like such a special case with a very damaged Republican candidate, so I guess I just wonder, are there lessons to draw here for Democrats as they look ahead to the 2018 midterms? Or was this just a one-off?

TYSON: No. This is a serious thing. I think they took for granted - and I - that black people was going to automatically vote Democratic because we are black and we are low income. But it's not - that's not the case. That - we are serious, we are serious voters, that we do come out to vote, and they just can't take our vote for granted.

GREENE: Well, what does the party need to do, as we head into a midterm election in 2018, to make sure that they do harness this enthusiasm and get this kind of turnout?

TYSON: I think that the party need to make sure that they bring more income and resources into the South and put it on the ground because the ground game is what won this election. And when they do bring money into the states, they never make it to the South, and they never bring it out to the community. We even had that problem with it this time.

GREENE: How many doors do you think you knocked on?

TYSON: Oh, thousands. I know we made millions of calls. I'm serious. We made millions of calls. And I just - I couldn't have - I don't even want to imagine that we just - we knocked on so many doors. We knocked on so many doors. And I have - and I've met so many people that I didn't know. So we have built our database, and our volunteer base is so large now. It's larger than we have ever had.

GREENE: Well, that could bode well for you as you head into a crucial midterm coming up in 2018 for the Democratic Party. I'm speaking to Sheila Tyson. She's a Birmingham city councilwoman, a veteran community organizer, and she was a big part of the get-out-the-vote effort for Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama. Thanks for your time this morning, nice talking to you.

TYSON: All right. OK. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.