I did not believe Democrat Doug Jones would defeat Republican Roy Moore for the Senate seat. Luckily, I am long since over the idea that I know what will happen in the future. But at least I know it.
So, to belabor the obvious, which you have surely learned elsewhere, Jones seems to have won the special election (although as of press time Moore has refused to concede). There’s some talk in the Moore camp of a recount, but none of the smarties seem to be taking it seriously.
Jones likely will be sworn in in early January, shortly after the holiday recess. That will make it a 51-49 Republican majority, which is still a majority but obviously leaving little room for defections. A lot of commentators on the tube were saying it would mean a single Republican defection will prevent Senate Republicans from passing anything, but that’s not quite right. With Republican Vice President Mike Pence still able to cast a decisive vote in case of a 50-50 tie, the real number of Republican defections necessary to prevent anything much would be two. Still, the leverage and importance of the few most moderate Republican senators (hello Susan Collins of Maine) and maverick Republicans (hello John McCain) becomes even larger.
Jones will not have to face re-election until 2020. If there are no other vacancies created in the meantime by death or resignation, Democrats need just a net two pickups in 2018 to take control. (A 50-50 Senate would still be under Republican control because of the vice president thing.)
Two pickups is normally not a lot, and the president’s party often does poorly in the midterms. And this president is historically unpopular.
But, as I have mentioned previously, the Dems face an extremely daunting lineup in the Senate elections of 2018. Not because Republicans are popular but because of 35 Senate seats that will be on the ballot in 2018 (assuming there will be a special election for the Franken seat in Minnesota), 26 are already held by Democrats. Even in the not-exactly-likely chance that the Dems hold all their seats, their pickups would have to come from among just nine currently-Republican-held Senate seats that will be on the 2018 ballot. Those are tough numbers. And this whole fat paragraph has been a digression from the Alabama news, and that news has reduced the number of Dem pickups from three to two.
So, back to Alabama. How and why did this upset occur? Jones is getting, and probably deserves, props for running a good race. When the result is within about one percentage point, obviously every significant factor can be called the key. But on the CNN panel analyzing the results late last night, Ana Navarro, Republican strategist and frequent CNN panelist, erupted, thus:
If the Republicans of Alabama had nominated a potted plant, it would have probably beaten Doug Jones by double digits. They just happened to pick a pedophile. There are bridges you just don’t cross.”
Host/moderator Don Lemon could be heard suggesting that she include the word “alleged” in front of “pedophile.” But the point was made.
Alabama’s senior senator, Republican Richard Shelby (who was a Democrat back in the day when Alabama was part of the solid blue South), stated publicly over the weekend that he hoped a Republican would win the election, but not Roy Moore. Shelby, who had voted absentee in advance, said he had voted for a Republican by write-in, and he encouraged others to do the same, but declined to name the person. There was some tap-dancing nonsense at play here, but, in fact, as I write this with all Alabama precincts having reported, the number of write-in votes was slightly greater than the size of Jones’ lead, meaning if you torture the numbers they might confess that Republicans who preferred a hopeless, symbolic protest vote to voting for Moore may have tipped the outcome.
Alabama is Alabama, and the results can be explained away by the bizarre Moore factor. But some will note that President Trump went all-in for Moore in the final days. The previous Election Day, featuring the two “bellwether” states of New Jersey and Virginia, were also big wins for the Democrats. Of course, those are swing states and can also be explained away. But, thus far, other than managing to win the presidency with neither a majority or nor even a plurality of the national popular vote, Trump has not been able to deliver decisive help to any Republicans.
Jones’ victory speech was short. He’s no great orator. He said:
This entire race has been about dignity and respect. This campaign — this campaign has been about the rule of law. This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency and making sure everyone in this state, regardless of which ZIP code you live in, is going to get a fair shake in life.
Then he turned to a great orator and perhaps became the first winner of an Alabama election to quote and paraphrase the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It went like this:
As we approach this history — as we approach this crossroads, we have work to do. We have work to do in this state. To build those bridges within this state. To reach across with those that didn’t vote for us to try to find that common ground.
I’m pledging to do that tonight. But I will tell you, tonight is a night for rejoicing because as Dr. King said, as Dr. King liked to quote: ‘The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.’
Tonight, tonight, ladies and gentlemen, tonight, tonight in this time, in this place, you helped bend that moral arc a little closer to that justice. And you did it — not only was it bent more, not only was its aim truer, but you sent it right through the heart of the great state of Alabama in doing so. Thank you, all. I love you.