Questions and Takeaways from the Alabama Senate Election
The outcome of the Alabama special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions proved to be somewhat of a surprise for most observers. Doug Jones’s victory presents questions that are begging for answers, and the answers various groups arrive at will determine future campaign strategy, voter turnout, and political affiliation.
In the 2016 presidential election, 1.3m Alabamians voted for Donald J. Trump; Roy Moore received 650,436 votes. What are we to make of the different vote totals? Did Alabamians who prefer GOP establishment candidates stay home because Moore is outside of the establishment? Is it possible RINOs didn’t vote because they thought they were taking a moral stand for women? Republicans and Trump supporters will have to determine what, if anything, they can learn from Doug Jones’s victory.
The Democrat Party hailed their victory as a prelude of things to come. Democrats were able to muster all their resources to propel, not just a Democrat, a progressive Democrat to victory in a deep, red state, so they should feel good about their win. However, the Democrat Party has to decide if the strategy they deployed in Alabama is transferable to other national races.
Doug Jones and his fellow progressives used some old tricks and new tricks to gain the upper hand in the weeks leading up to election day. Jones embraced and relied on the tried and true race-peddling to divide voters.
Some people think Hillary Clinton’s defeat signaled the end of identity politics, but the Jones camp felt differently. In fact, the Jones campaign created and distributed a flyer that black people consider racist, but they voted for Jones anyway. It is not a stretch to suggest that the Jones camp took identity politics to a new level of race-baiting meant to energize black voters and drive a wedge between white and black Alabamians, it worked. Now, Democrats have to decide whether racist flyers will appeal to black voters in other states. And there is a new trick that might be useful for Democrats.
A few weeks from election day, The Washington Post (WaPo) published a story in which women declared that Roy Moore sexually assaulted them. The timing of WaPo’s story could not have been better for Jones. The allegations are too old to litigate in a courtroom, so voters are left to judge for themselves the validity of the stories; the women cannot prove, and Moore cannot disprove the claims.
The WaPo piece worked to perfection for the Jones campaign; the GOP establishment abandoned Moore verbally and financially, and Jones never had to reveal his positions on issues such as abortion, immigration, border security, et cetera. Now, Democrats must decide if sexual allegations become part of their campaign repertoire. Is it possible that lobbing allegations of sexual deviancy/harassment/assault against their Republican opponents become a mainstay in the progressive playbook? The Democrat Party might add sexual predator to its list of labels for Republicans. “You are a racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamaphobic, xenophobic sexual predator,” it worked in Alabama.
The primary question for the Republican Party in Alabama is: In two years, will the 650,436 people who voted for Roy Moore vote for the candidate the GOP establishment trots out to recapture the Senate seat? Alabamians who prefer to vote for establishment candidates did not vote for the Make America Great Again (MAGA) candidate, so in two years will they return the favor and stay home rather than vote for the establishment candidate?