The outcome of next month's crucial election for the U.S. Senate in Alabama is rooted in the past.
News coverage of the Dec. 12 election, which could determine the political balance of power, is overshadowed by allegations that the Republican candidate, former judge Roy Moore, acted inappropriately towards young girls decades ago.
Largely overlooked in the race is Moore's Democratic rival, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, whose main claim to fame is his role in the conviction of two white supremacists for a 1963 church bombing that killed four young black girls.
"Both have experience with young children," said Donald Watkins, a wealthy black businessman and former attorney who knows both men. "Doug Jones avenged the death of four little girls in a church bombing, on the other hand Roy Moore was preying on young girls, stalking them and molesting them."
Moore denies the allegations of misconduct though he told the Washington Post he may have dated teen girls when he was in his 30s.
Polls show Moore's once commanding double-digit lead is shrinking fast in a state that President Donald Trump won by 28 points last November. A victory for Jones would be historic given that the last time a Democrat won a U.S. Senate race in Alabama was Richard Shelby 25 years ago. Shelby became a Republican two years later, and still represents Alabama.
Losing the Alabama senate seat would also be a huge blow to the White House. Republicans currently control the Senate by a narrow margin of 52-48, but the party's hold is fragile. Several Republicans have lately sided with Democrats and voted against Trump's wishes on key legislation such as healthcare.
Beyond the issue of Moore's sexual behavior, the Alabama Senate election has exposed unresolved social tensions over traditional southern values, such as white, male supremacy, which date back to the Civil War and still lie just beneath the surface of Alabama politics.
"What we are seeing is a window into the past. It really has to do with their (Moore supporters') concept of what is the norm or what is tradition," said Donald Jones, a University of Miami constitutional law professor, who is black. "One of those traditions is segregation. They like the idea of white privilege. They want more. They see it (the election) as a civilizational battle against liberal elitists in the north ... their traditions are being assaulted."
While Moore, 70, represents traditional southern values, and enjoys the fervent support of religious conservatives, Jones, 63, is supported by moderate and independent voters and widely admired by Alabama's large black community which makes up 26% of the state's voting population, as well as a far smaller Latino community.
The 16th St Baptist Church bombing in 1963 served as a major catalyst in the movement for racial equality and the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans racial discrimination. It took years to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan members who carried out the attack and the case was only reopend after it was revealed that the FBI hid key documents in the case.
Jones prosecuted two of the attackers 2001 and 2002, during which time he became close to the relatives of the victims.
"He did a fabulous job ... He's family," said Lisa McNair, 53, the sister of Denise McNair who was 11 when she died, and the youngest of the four girls. "When the verdict came down it was one of the most surreal moments of my life to hear them say 'guilty,'" she said.
"I just cried from within ... tears just came streaming out of me," she recalled. "By the time I caught myself and looked up where the lawyers were, the prosecutors, Doug and the other lawyers, were deep in tears as well. "I'll never forget how moved they were. You knew they would be excited and happy for us, but you could tell by their tears that this meant something to them as well. They were there for us in a real sense."
McNair and Jones remain friends. "I talk to Doug all the time. We text on game day," she said, noting that they are both big fans of the nation's No 1 ranked University of Alabama football team, known as the Crimson Tide.
"He comes by and checks on mum. He's not a career politician. He's real people. That's what we need at this time to bring some unity to the United States," she added.
In 1963, Alabama was the center of a non-violent civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. against longtime Governor George Wallace, a die-hard segregationist.
Moore is a throwback to those times, say some analysts. He brandished a revolver at one campaign rally, wearing a cowboy hat and leather waistcoat, and went to vote in the primary on horseback. "He's like a Governor Wallace of the 21st century," said Jones, the University of Miami professor who is no relation of the candidate.
Moore was twice kicked off the state Supreme Court for advocating extreme social conservatism, including refusing to remove a monument he commissioned of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Judicial Building.
In contrast, Jones represents more modern, enlightened Alabamians, who embrace racial diversity.
From a blue-collar family, his father worked at U.S. Steel while his mother stayed home to raise their children. Jones got Senate experience in Washington after law school when he served as staff counsel to the U.S Senate Judiciary Committee for Senator Howell Heflin, a highly regarded moderate Alabama Democrat who Jones says is his model.
"He's someone who's been in the trenches and can understand complex issues," said Freddy Rubio, a Hispanic attorney who worked for a time at the same lawfirm as Jones a decade ago. Jones had been considering running for the U.S. Senate for a number of years, Rubio said. "The time has come. He found the right moment," he added.
A fiscal conservative and social moderate, Jones enjoys name recognition statewide. "That’s slightly unusual for a Democrat in Alabama. So he is viable and has financial backing to run a competitive race," said Watkins.
During his career he served as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama beginning in 1997 which includes an agricultural region which attracts Mexican farm laborers to pick tomatos. He is sympathetic to immigrants and
has come out in support of the DACA program for the country's 800,000 so-called Dreamers, the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as minors.
In 2011 he spoke out against a state law, known as HB 56, considered the harshest anti-immigrant law in the nation, which denied all public services to undocumented immigrants and required state and local law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of those they suspect of being in the country illegally, raising accusations of racial profiling.
Jones conducted a series of town halls on the issue with then Justice Department civil rights lawyer Tom Perez, now the head of the Democratic National Committee.
Jones declined to be interviewed for this story. He is also keeping his own national party figures at arms’ length so as not to provoke more local resentment over outside interference by the poliitcal elites. The only big out-of-state names to join him on the campaign trail are former vice president Joe Biden and Georgia congressman John Lewis, a black civil rights leader.
Jones reportedly canceled a find-raising trip to Washington this week.
But, in a state with a large evangelical voting bloc, Jones' public support for abortion rights makes him unpopular with most conservative voters, and could cost him the election.
When asked in one recent poll if the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore had influenced their support, 35 percent of all likely voters said the allegations made them more likely to vote for Moore. Another 11% said the allegations made it less likely they would vote for Moore and 36% said they intended to vote for Jones anyway. Another 18 percent said they were either undecided, or that the allegations made no difference to them.
"He might be in hot water but I got to stay the course and vote Republican," said Carlos Romero, 72, a real estate businessman who grew up in California and moved to Alabama 25 years ago.
A lifelong Republican, he questioned the allegations saying some of the evidence against Moore "stinks" of fabrication. "He might have done some things when he was younger, but who didn't," he said, adding that he married a woman 12 years his junior and they remain together after 40 years.
Two new polls this week has Jones pulling ahead for the first time in the race. A Fox poll on Thursday showed the Jones had dramatically taken the lead by eight points over Moore. He was trailing by double digits just a few weeks ago before the scandal hit.
On the other hand, Moore's extremism has alienated major Republican Party donors allowing Jones to outspend him 11-to-one on TV ads,
according to Advertising Analytics.
One of his campaign ads features a sequence of Republican vowing to vote for Jones because of the sexual scandal involving a growing list of women.
Says one middle-aged white man: "I'm a lifelong Republican but I just can't do it."