On Tuesday night, the political world seemed to tilt on its axis as Democrat Doug Jones prevailed in a state where Donald Trump had won by 28 points just over a year before. After a night filled with tearful, glee filled hugs at Doug Jones headquarters the political world seems to have returned to stability for one simple reason; this was Roy Moore’s election to lose and he lost it.
It would be easy to turn this election into a referendum on Trump. It’s what Democrats are doing. Few, rational people are buying it. Yes, Jones win was an upset but it had far more to do with Moore than anything else.
Moore, who defeated Senator Luther Strange and Mo Brooks in the GOP primary back in the summer was a well-known but also scandal plagued commodity in Alabama. While older voters might have liked him the younger, more affluent base of the party, while socially and fiscally conservative, could hardly stomach him and that was before the molestation allegations.
Exit polls tell the tale of a special election electorate unlikely to be seen in the midterms next year. Blacks made up 35 percent of the vote, compared to 30 percent in 2012, according to exit polls, when Obama was on the ballot and Moore lagged Romney’s margins among whites by a staggering twenty points.
Compared with the 2016 presidential results, the Republican vote plummeted by 51 percent, while the Democratic vote ticked down by just 8 percent. That matches up with the exit poll data that found Jones took only a smidge of the Republican vote away from Moore. Jones didn’t win by converting conservatives. He won because he was genial enough to keep the Democratic base energized without drawing Republicans out of their homes determined to stop him.
The common refrain from the Left is that blacks, young voters and college educated voters are ready to vote in droves and overwhelm Republicans nationally. Maybe, in certain places. The problem with using Alabama as an example of this is that it is not so much that fired up Democrats and Independents showed up to vote but rather so many Republicans did not. When Trump won the state by 28 points last year turnout was above 70 percent of VAP (voting age population). Tuesday it was 36 percent. In high stakes elections such as Virginia showed, Republicans will show up and support credible Republicans even in Trump country.
The warning sign for Republicans might be they need to goose turnout and be careful not to lose affluent, fiscally conservative suburbanites in red states such as Texas and Arizona. Of course, Ted Cruz is not Roy Moore and has much more appeal to these voters in his home state. Likewise, no Republican running for open Senate seats in Texas or Arizona has his baggage.
Agenda-wise, it is unclear how this will play. Tax reform seems to be on a glide-path after Senate and House Republicans reached an agreement in Committee. The full details of the agreement have yet to be revealed but it is tailored to be perfect to nobody and just good enough to appeal to all.
Judicially, Republicans rarely have to worry about defections, especially as long as Trump nominees are judicially sound and believe in the Constitution. As for Paul Ryan’s hope to reform entitlements, odds are good the Speaker will never realize his dream before he steps down as leader (announced Thursday).
It is true Alabama was essential to Democrats retaking the Senate next year and their victory there makes their path easier. That said, they still need to win pink Arizona, blue Nevada and more importantly run the table in every Trump state which a Senate incumbent represents. Good luck with that.
Ultimately, Alabama’s election signals that Republicans cannot take anything for granted next year. But it also tells them not to nominate extremely flawed candidates either. It shows Democrats can win almost anywhere but they need a lot of help to do it.
Many Democratic special election victories this year have been one-sided affairs where they outspent their GOP counterparts by millions. They will not have the same luxury next year making the results from Alabama hardly applicable to next year. We’ll see.