By Nash Jenkins
December 13, 2017

Doug Jones had barely won the Alabama Senate race before the head of the National Republican Senate Committee put out a statement calling on him to switch parties.

“I hope Senator-elect Doug Jones will do the right thing and truly represent Alabama by choosing to vote with the Senate Republican Majority,” said NRSC Chairman Cory Gardner, a Republican senator from Colorado, in a statement.

It was a longshot, but Gardner might not need to worry about the incoming Democratic senator from Alabama. If interviews he gave before the election are any sign, he’ll be looking for ways to work with Republicans.

“They’re beginning to see that even with President Trump and a Republican House and Senate, things just aren’t getting done,” Jones told TIME in a breakfast interview at a diner in northern Alabama in October, where he’d just met with voters. “And the reason that things aren’t getting done is nobody’s talking to each other.”

Jones used the call for bipartisanship to set up a contrast with his fire-and-brimstone opponent, former state Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore. But it’s also a necessary strategy for a Democrat in a deep red state to call for crossing the aisle to work together with Republicans.

When he’s sworn in, he will join Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia in the group of Democrats who are willing to break from party ranks when it’s politically worthwhile. They were two of only three Democrats, along with moderate Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, to vote for the confirmation of Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and both publicly wavered for days on how whether they’d support the GOP’s recent tax reform bill. (They ended up voting no.)

Jones’ election could also make it more likely that Republicans will need to work with him. His win narrows the GOP majority to 51 votes, meaning that just two defectors could sink any bill.

That will make it that much harder for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to try to pass bills on strictly party lines, a tactic that failed on multiple attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act but has succeeded so far on a Republican tax reform plan.

For Jones, the party line votes were a sign that Alabama voters were ready to try something different.

“What we’re seeing and feeling out there is that they want someone who can sit down and talk to someone they don’t agree with,” he told TIME in October. “People want things to happen, and they’re not happening, in part because people won’t talk to each other. Regardless of shaking up the status quo, you still have to reach consensus on so many issues. And, you know, there’s only so far that revolution can take you.”

Even if Jones sometimes crosses party lines to work with Republicans, Democrats such as California Sen. Kamala Harris were eager to seat him as soon as possible to give the minority greater clout on the tax reform bill and other efforts. (The Senate and House are currently conferencing to reconcile their two versions of the bill; a final version is expected to come up for a vote before Christmas.)

Jones insists, however, that he doesn’t want to consider policy issues along party lines — especially those that directly impact the livelihood of his voters, such as healthcare.

“Healthcare is the biggest driver,” Jones told TIME in October. “I think for the first time, people really started focusing on the specific issues involving their healthcare, as opposed to a Republican view and a Democratic view.”

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