Alabama Senate victory shows Democrats they must work harder

Roy Moore rides off into the sunset

Last Tuesday, Democratic candidate Doug Jones won a stunning upset over Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama U.S. Senate special election. Jones’ win was remarkable given that this Senate seat went over 97 percent for Republican incumbent Jeff Sessions (who early this year left to become U.S. Attorney General in the Donald Trump administration) the last time it was contested in 2014. The Democrats did not even field a challenger to Sessions that time. There were several keys to Jones’ victory, each of which shows that the Democrats can beat the Republicans at the voting booth, if they work extra hard on several fronts:First, Roy Moore had some major baggage that, obviously, not many future Republican candidates will have: Moore was an alleged child sex predator who, according to a number of accounts, targeted and assaulted girls as young as 14 when he was in his 30s. Probably to avoid tough questions on this issue, Moore largely disappeared from the campaign trail during the last week before the election. Indeed, given Jones’ razor-thin 1.5 percent victory over Moore, it’s quite possible that, absent such reports of predatory behavior, Moore could have won the election. This means that, in addition to exploiting their opponents’ weaknesses, Democrats must double down on the other keys to Jones’ victory.

Nearly every analyst is talking about the turnout of black women (over 97 percent) for Doug Jones. Likewise, black men voted 93 percent for Jones. Another group that voted strongly for Jones was young voters (both 18-29 and 30-44 years of age), who favored Jones by 60 percent and 61 percent, respectively. It is quite likely that younger voters were more appalled by reports of Moore’s behavior towards girls, but it is also likely that, like black voters, these voters favored Jones’ inclusive views on equality and civil rights over Moore’s divisive records. This sentiment is reflected, for example, in young Americans’ views in favor of marriage equality, which were ahead of their older counterparts.

In contrast, even after the reports about Moore’s alleged predatory behavior toward girls, 63 percent of white women still voted for Moore, demonstrating the Republican tribalism among many white voters. Likewise, white men voted 72 percent for Moore. Similarly, rural voters went 62 percent for Moore, and white born-again (or Evangelical) Christians voted 80 percent for Moore. These figures suggest that those who want the Democratic Party to go after these voters have their work cut out for them.

Jones’ hefty voter turnout operation was also crucial to his victory. This operation included fundraising to the tune of $10.2 million. Obviously, in motivating voters, Democratic candidates need to both highlight their positives and their opponents’ negatives. In Jones’ case, the contrast was very clear. For example, as mentioned above, Jones is a staunch civil rights supporter, and as U.S. Attorney, he successfully prosecuted two Ku Klux Klansmen involved in the infamous 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four young black girls. This was in sharp contrast to Moore, who favors the Bible over the Constitution, and spent much of his career attacking gay people, abortion and Muslims, even praising slavery.

The other key to Jones’ victory was the communications and messaging operation carried out by his team, as well as the Democratic Party and third-party groups, and which was furthered by many Democratic foot soldiers on social media. In addition to touting Jones’ positive attributes, for example, many Moore opponents on Twitter referred to Moore as #RoyMooreChildMolester or #RoyMooreChildPredator. This kind word association is something the Republicans have done effectively for years, with examples such as “liberal Democrats,” “Democrat Party” and “tax and spend liberals.”

In short, despite Republican advantages such as voter suppression, Doug Jones’ election win showed that, by working extra hard and maintaining sharp focus, Democrats can be extremely effective.

Photo by FolsomNatural, used under Creative Commons license. https://is.gd/WHef2w

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