“The Democratic Senator from Alabama” is a strange thing to hear in the 21st century. Since Jeff Sessions original election to the Senate in 1996, the United State’s Senate delegation from Alabama has been very reliably Republican. But that all changed the other night in the wake of the Alabama special election, when Democrat Doug Jones eeked out a victory over Republican Roy Moore. So what can Republicans learn from this very very strange election? Here are a few takeaways.
Democrats are more energized than Republicans right now. We saw it in the Virginia Gubernatorial election, but now it rings even truer: the Democratic base is energized, and Republicans ignore that at their own risk. Doug Jones and the Democrats were able to take advantage of the low turnout that occurs during special elections. The percentage of voters who were African American in this special election rivaled that of when Barack Obama was on the ballot, a number that we saw dip in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was on the top of the ticket, a very impressive feat for Democrats and the Moore campaign.
Candidates matter. Roy Moore had more than his fair share of baggage that has been discussed and debated more than enough everywhere else, so we don’t need to discuss it here. Enough Alabama voters believed the accusations against Moore that he was able to lose a race that virtually any other serious Republican would have won walking away. Maybe Moore would have even been successful during a general election with higher turnout, but we shouldn’t act surprised that many voters in Alabama were not highly motivated to get to a polling place and vote for this man. Sometimes you bet on the wrong horse and when you do there are consequences, unfortunately, this time it cost Republicans a Senate seat. It is the responsibility of candidates to earn votes from their constituents, a political party is not entitled to those votes even in a state as red as Alabama. In order to win we should strive to also be worthy of winning.
It is probably an isolated incident. Democrats are running around on the media circuit now trying to make more out of this victory than it likely was. Time and time again news commentators attempted to paint this race as a referendum on Donald Trump and his policies, but I am not buying it. Yes, Democrats are more energized, much like Republicans were during the 2010 special election to replace Ted Kennedy in the Senate when Republican Scott Brown was able to win a Senate seat in Massachusetts. As I said earlier Republicans should ignore that momentum at their own risk, but this was a local election where the big thing at issue was the accusation against Roy Moore. Reading something more into that might be smart politics, but to pretend that the perfect storm that led to Senator Doug Jones is indicative of a massive blue wave that could take out even Senators like Ted Cruz, as some in the media are now suggesting seems like a bit of a stretch to me.
With an even narrower margin in the Senate, the Trump agenda is now very reliant on Senators like John McCain, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Rand Paul, and others playing ball. That could present some real problems on major legislation, but I am not convinced that in the long run, Roy Moore’s loss could end up being a good thing. Saving the country from a drawn-out ethics investigation that would be broadcast wall to wall in the run-up to the 2018 elections seems like a positive to me. Democrats would certainly like to get every sitting Republican on record for where they stood on Roy Moore expulsion and their messaging would attempt to make Roy Moore the Republican Party’s new hood ornament. While this loss hurts, it should be a wakeup call to Republicans everywhere. Be worthy of winning, or face the consequences.
Jacob Vandever is political activist, lifelong Oregonian, and proud Oregon State graduate.