(Doug Jones, likely Alabama’s new Senator. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
If historical trends meant anything establishment Republican and interim senator Luther Strange should have won the 2017 special election for Jeff Session’s seat as soon as polls had closed in Alabama. Instead, Doug Jones became the first Democratic senator to represent Alabama in about 20 years. Jones beat out his controversial rival Roy Moore 49.9 to 48.4 percent. The rest of the votes went to write-in candidates.
Moore’s loss shocks even more because of the context surrounding the race. For starters, Jones not only won as a Democrat ut a standard, left-leaning Democrat.
The full story
Jones tailored some of his platform and campaigning to his home state but overall he ran as a standard Democrat. Jones declares health care a right and supports the ACA (Obamacare). Jones opposes tax cuts – – particularly the current tax cuts being debated. Jones believes in climate change and argues for environmental protection. He is also thoroughly socially left, supporting LGBT+ rights, abortion rights, and pushing for equal pay laws.
Jones winning in a state as socially conservative as Alabama means a lot for Democrats. His not being conservative on social issues strengthens the Democratic Party when it wants to push for socially liberal agendas or against conservative ones.
It’s a huge shift that Jones won while unabashedly supporting LGBT+ rights in the South. In 1996 Southern Democrat and President Bill Clinton passed and implemented the Defense of Marriage Act that set back LGBT+ rights and quality of life. Jones shows a reversal in his own party and the American left.
On the other hand, Moore lost on a platform reminiscent of Trump’s only more socially conservative. Moore pushed for tax cuts, renegotiating NAFTA and other trade deals, and for tough immigration policies particularly towards Muslims. President Trump won Alabama by 28 percentage points on a similar platform. Moore had stronger words than Trump about LGBT+ rights, declaring that the Supreme Court had not given any rights to trans people.
Roy Moore lost in no small part because of reasonable controversy. During the campaign, nine women came forward with allegations that Moore had romantic relations with them when they were teenagers. The controversy hit Moore particularly hard because Moore portrayed himself as the moral Christian candidate. The controversy also cost him the support of many establishment Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised an ethics investigation that could remove Moore from the Senate if he got elected. Alabama’s other senator Richard Shelby said he refused to vote for Moore.
How the candidates campaigned
Moore still received help from big names in the Republican Party even after the controversy. President Donald Trump, the RNC, and alt-right strategist Steve Bannon all came out in force for the Moore campaign. That made Moore’s loss potentially indicative of Trump’s new wave of politics. At exit polls, only 48 percent of Alabama voters said they approved of Trump while 47 said they didn’t. That comes as a shock since Trump won Alabama so handily.
Intelligent and targeted campaigning along with a big national push helped Jones win, too. Jones received help from Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and even basketball personality Charles Barkley. Jones used the national support to push for higher turnover among young voters, black voters, and to turn educated white voters to his side. In short, Jones saw the demographics he could win over and focused on getting them out to vote.
What a Doug Jones victory means
Jones campaigned himself into a powerful and historic victory. His victory cuts the Republican Senate majority down to a meager 51 to 49 senators. The win could make even more difference in 2018 when the Democrats have a chance to flip the Senate.
For Trump and Republicans that could spell disaster. While controlling all three chambers of government the Republican Party could not accomplish major policy goals like repealing the ACA. If the Democrats control even one chamber of government it will become much harder for Trump to pass legislation.
Republicans increasingly cannot ignore a nagging question of what to do with outsider challengers like Roy Moore who come in unvetted. Moore is far from the first insurgent candidate to topple an establishment Republican in the primary elections and then lose in the general. Todd Akin did it in St. Louis and Richard Mourdock did it in Indiana. In Indiana Mourdock took away a nearly guaranteed seat from Republicans. Lugar had not come close to losing his Senate seat to a Democrat in over 2 decades