Figures, Dobson advance in Alabama's runoffs for new House District Alabama's 2nd Congressional District was reshaped to give Black voters more political power and followed a lengthy legal battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Figures, Dobson advance in Alabama's runoffs for new House district

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The field of candidates is set in an Alabama congressional race that could help determine who controls the House of Representatives next year. Republican Caroleene Dobson will face Democratic candidate Shomari Figures this November. It will be the first general election matchup in a newly created district mandated by a federal court. Those newly drawn lines are meant to give better representation to Black voters to better reflect the diversity of the state. Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott stayed up late to follow the race, and he's with us now from Montgomery, the state capital. Kyle, good morning.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So would you just start by telling us more about the candidates who won the runoffs? Why don't we start with the Democratic candidate, Shomari Figures?

GASSIOTT: Yeah. Figures is a - is well-known in much of the district, which includes his hometown, Mobile. His parents also served in the Alabama Senate. And he worked for Attorney General Merrick Garland, and he was in the Obama White House. Now, one of the issues he's campaigned on is increasing access to health care, and he's citing Alabama's high mortality rate. He's also concerned about disparities - for example, how Black mothers and infants are treated and cared for. And I spoke with Figures yesterday, Michel, and asked him what his strategy would be to connect with voters. He said he's going to do what he's already been doing - something he calls going old-school.

SHOMARI FIGURES: We've really touched a lot of voters. We've been able to really speak with a lot of voters personally over the phones and text messages and emails and social media engagement.

GASSIOTT: And Michel, he told me his campaign has knocked on over 20,000 doors since the start of his run.

MARTIN: All right. So now let's hear about the Republican, Caroleene Dobson.

GASSIOTT: So she's a relative newcomer to Alabama politics. But looking at last night's results, she's already connected with one voting bloc in particular - rural voters. She picked up rural counties across the district, including Monroe, Butler and Pike. The new district does encompass Montgomery and parts of Mobile, but it's also very rural. In her latest ad, Dobson speaks directly to rural voters.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

CAROLEENE DOBSON: Five generations on our Alabama farm and one truth remains constant - the job's never done. Making it as a farmer isn't easy. It takes faith, grit and sacrifice, especially now, in Joe Biden's America.

GASSIOTT: She's also attacked the president's immigration policies, calling for a tighter border policy. But, Michel, she also says she plans to streamline the worker visa process to get more workers on these farms.

MARTIN: Interesting. So candidates sound like they have some real differences. And they're running in this newly drawn district. Can you just tell us a little bit about the district and how you think that this might shape the election?

GASSIOTT: Yeah, the district spans the bottom of the state. It runs from the southwestern corner, in Mobile, to the eastern Georgia line, and it's urban and rural. And a lot of the Black voter advocacy groups I spoke with last summer said that they were concerned that, in future - that a lot of the Black voters will have moved out of the area. Currently, the Black voting-age population is around 50%, and that's not by chance.

MARTIN: So we've mentioned a few times that this new district is meant to increase representation for Black voters, who the courts have found have actually been underrepresented in the way that those lines were drawn. So what are you hearing from the people who live there?

GASSIOTT: Well, Michel, yesterday I was at the Cleveland Avenue YMCA, a polling place that's not too far from where Rosa Parks lived here in Montgomery and is also where our current Governor, Kay Ivey, casts her vote. And I ran into Roy Wilson, who was coming in to vote for Shomari Figures. Wilson, who is Black and has a great radio voice, was excited about the new district and what it means for both him and Alabama.

ROY WILSON: I think every citizen in this country should have proper representation, which we haven't always had. Having grown up in Montgomery, I've seen a lot of things, and I've been misrepresented in a lot of different ways.

GASSIOTT: Now, Michel, Wilson is not alone. Many voters in this district think they haven't been heard, and this new district might finally give them a political voice.

MARTIN: That was Kyle Gassiott with Troy Public Radio. Kyle, thank you.

GASSIOTT: Thank you, Michel.

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