Alabama has elected its first Democratic Senator in over two decades. As I indicated in Links yesterday, I’d never even remotely seen as many signs out for a political campaign when I was in Birmingham over Thanksgiving, and every one I saw was for Jones. That seems to have been a harbinger for the vote today. As The Hill confirmed, “But Democrats outpaced Republicans in turnout, a shocking display in such a red state.”
Admittedly, this was more a vote against the horrorshow of Roy Moore than a strong endorsement for Jones, who didn’t stand for much beyond being the other guy. And Alabama is so not representative of where the Democratic party is likely to take ground that the Jones win is not likely to factor much if at all into the unresolved conflict in the Democratic Party between the big money Democrats and the Sanders wing. The fact that a candidate who is close to a blank slate won will nevertheless be used as an excuse by the Democratic party establishment to persist in its strategy of pursuing “suburban” Republicans, when that species is not much in evidence in Alabama.
However, even with Moore arguably being a special case due to the timely exposure of his pursuit of underage girls, this loss has to rattle the Republicans deeply. Alabama is a state with a lot of diehard Trump voters, and Trump pulled for Moore. It’s also one with evangelicals and quite a few Southern Baptists who would be guaranteed to vote for an anti-abortion candidate, no matter how repugnant he was. This is the most decisive proof so far of the thesis that the Republicans are going to have a hard time keeping losses to a minimal level in the 2018 midterms.
Republicans see the Moore defeat as a repudiation of its populist wing. I’d like to see more post-election analysis, as in demographic breakdown of who voted how as well as voter interviews, before being so sure. However, it is sure that that establishment Republicans will use the Moore defeat to wrest control from the insurgents. Again from The Hill:
Moore’s defeat is a significant loss for Trump, and for Stephen Bannon, the former White House strategist and Breitbart News chief who campaigned for him over other Republicans’ objections.
Bannon’s critics wasted no time piling on him and framing his brand as toxic to the party’s chances at holding its congressional majority.
“This is a brutal reminder that candidate quality matters regardless of where you are running,” said Steven Law, who serves as the head of the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC and has emerged as one of Bannon’s chief detractors.
“Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the President of the United States into his fiasco,” he added.
While this says much about party infighting, it’s hardly accurate to assign blame to Moore staying on the ballot to Trump. As I recall, the Moore sex scandal broke too close to election time for a replacement candidate to be installed, and Moore’s primary opponent, Luther Strange, rejected the appeal for him to campaign as a write-in candidate. And as much as I am not a Bannon fan, blaming the failure of Republicans in Alabama to turn out on Bannon is bit of a stretch. Talk radio has more pull among the hard core red voters in Alabama than Breitbart.
This loss also has to factor into upcoming legislative battles, most important, the tax bill. Even though Jones will not be seated before January, and the Republicans were planning to pass a tax “reform” bill by year end, the Jones win throws a spanner in the works. The bill is very unpopular and does not poll very well even with Republicans. Moreover, with Jones in, the odds of the Republicans using big tax cuts to force through their pet agenda of “entitlement” cuts, namely, food stamp, Medicare, and Social Security, also looks far more remote. Some Republicans are likely to reappraise the risk of signing up for tax “reform” and demand a more modest bill.
Update: True to his tasteless form, more than an hour after the Associated Press was the first to call the race for Jones, Moore is refusing to concede. The New York Times has reported that with all precincts in, Jones won by 1.5 points, well over the 0.5% margin for an automatic recount. From the Times, which has a county-by-county breakdown:
Doug Jones, a Democrat, won the special election on Tuesday to fill the United States Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general. Mr. Jones aimed to create a lead in the urban counties that include Birmingham and Montgomery, and across a band of largely black counties. Strong support for Roy S. Moore, the Republican, was expected in rural, mostly white parts of the state.
One critical battleground was a trio of smaller, whiter cities: Mobile, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville. Late Tuesday night, Mr. Jones led by a large margin in Mobile County, and he had won Tuscaloosa County and Madison County, home of Huntsville.
Shortly after Moore’s speech, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper if he expected “anything other than Mr. Jones being the next senator from the state of Alabama.”
“I would find that highly unlikely to occur, Jake,” Merrill replied.