Former US Attorney Doug Jones, a Democrat who made his mark when he prosecuted the Klansmen responsible for bombing a Birmingham church and killing four young African-American girls, won another significant victory in Alabama yesterday. Jones defeated Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court justice who had been removed twice from the bench for refusing to obey federal court orders with which he disagreed, for a seat in the US Senate.
[Although Moore has refused to concede, he lost to Jones by some 20,000 votes, or half of one percent. It is difficult to see how Moore could overturn the result. He will probably only prolong the agony for the GOP, in and out of Alabama, by calling for a recount.]
But it was not Moore’s judicial record that was his albatross. Rather, an allegation, first disclosed by the Washington Post, that Moore had inappropriate sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl when he was in his 30s, was more than he and his supporters could overcome. The allegation, abetted by a number of other women who contended Moore had behaved inappropriately with them while they were in their teens, referred to incidents that occurred some four decades ago, the shocking nature of the charges, as well as the credible manner in which they were related by the now-adult women, combined to create a heavy burden for Moore’s candidacy.
President Trump, anxious to keep the Alabama Senate seat in Republican hands to bolster the GOP’s narrow Senate majority, took a political risk by coming to Moore’s defense, at first tentatively but later whole-heartedly. The risk did not pay off. It is now clear that there are limits to what voters will accept in order to defend political and/or ideological positions. Moreover, not even standing by President Trump and his forceful attacks against “the establishment” brought enough political muscle in a tough race like the Moore candidacy provided, even in a very Red state like Alabama, where Trump had a 28-point margin in 2016.
Jones outspent Moore heavily – $9.3 million to $4.5 million for Moore – but Moore was heavily outspent by incumbent-by-appointment Luther Strange in the GOP primary and still won handily. And Jones had ten times – that’s ten times – more TV spots than Moore. But that wasn’t what beat Moore.
First, African-American voters, familiar – or made familiar – with Jones’ civil rights record, and already hostile to Republicans in general and President Trump in particular, turned out in record high numbers, surpassing the black turnout in Alabama when President Obama was on the ballot.
Second, Republican voters in suburban counties did not remain loyal to the GOP. As already noted, loyalty to Republican policies, from conservative judicial appointments to pro-life policies, lower taxes and a host of other issues, simply did not outweigh concerns
about Moore’s apparent personal history. This was amplified by long-term disagreement with Moore’s hard-right stances on social issues in the past, which got him removed from the state Supreme Court twice.
The implications of this election will be widely felt.
In Washington, the handful of Republican senators – John McCain (AZ), Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Rand Paul (KY) – who like to hold up the Senate in opposition to such GOP/Trump priorities as repealing Obamacare and passing tax reform, will be strengthened. Moreover, the Democratic minority of 48 (including two Blue independents) will now be 49, one vote stronger, giving it a greater say in legislative maneuvering.
In the nation at large, sexual harassment and other women’s issues will be front and center next year, and the albatross that Moore wore around his neck will likely be hung around the necks of Republican candidates across the board in the House and Senate elections. We have already seen this in Virginia’s 2017 elections, where Republican turnout was at a record high, but was still swamped by the Democratic votes of women in urban/suburban bailiwicks.
Finally, a Democratic victory in deep Red Alabama will give encouragement to Democratic Parties in the rest of the South. The South Carolina Democratic Party has already emailed a call to action on behalf of its candidates next year, especially in several districts where GOP margins have shrunk of late.
In any case, stay tuned!