Alabama Special Election: Winners and Losers

Alabama Special Election: Winners and Losers
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WINNERS:

Doug Jones: Little-known inside Alabama and utterly unknown outside the state, the Democratic candidate finally found his voice in the waning days of the campaign. “I’ll never embarrass you” hardly has the ring of “It’s Morning Again in America,” but it nicely summed up what this election was about — and got the job done.

Jones didn’t hedge on his party’s litmus-test social issues, including abortion, which means that he managed to win while running as a generic national Democrat in one of the most solidly Republican states in the nation. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer woke up with a smile on his face Wednesday.

Mitch McConnell: The Senate majority leader is almost as happy today as his Democratic counterpart. After revelations that Roy Moore had stalked girls in successive senior classes at Gadsden High School in the 1970s -- not always restricting his advances to seniors -- Moore inexplicably blamed McConnell for his troubles.

“Mitch McConnell and the GOP establishment, the Obama-Clinton Machine and their cohorts in the fake news liberal media are ramping up and doubling down on their vicious and nasty attacks against me,” Moore asserted in a fundraising solicitation. McConnell isn’t one for fist bumps, but he owes one to Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, whose public opposition to Moore was a deciding factor in this race.

Mike Pence: The vice president has managed to negotiate the human minefield known as Donald J. Trump with great skill. Pence has been as tactful as the president is impolitic. But his luck might have run out if this election had gone the other way. It would have fallen to the vice president to swear in Roy Moore as a new senator. Not Pence’s fault, but that picture would have been posted on the Facebook pages of millions of liberals, who would have gleefully joined the two men at the hip.

Investigative Reporting. It was just a month ago, believe it or not, that Roy Moore was cruising toward victory when The Washington Post published a stunning scoop: In the late 1970s, when Moore was an assistant district attorney in Gadsden, Alabama, he made sexual overtures to a series of high school girls, one as young as 14. Moore denied it, while his campaign went on the attack.

But this wasn’t “fake news.” The Post articles were air-tight, as were its follow-up pieces with revelations from additional accusers. And when conservative provocateur James O’Keefe sent undercover operatives to try and compromise the paper’s reporters, the Post exposed that effort, too. The establishment news media has a lot to answer for in the Trump era, especially the Russia-influence story. But the Post’s Roy Moore investigation is a classic example of scrupulous and public service-minded journalism.

Alabama: In the early 1990s, when former Klansman David Duke made the runoff against ethically challenged Edwin Edwards in the Louisiana governor’s race, one bumper sticker captured the dilemma: “Vote for the Crook. It’s important!” Louisianans followed that advice, averting disaster. Duke’s election would have prompted mass boycotts, crippling New Orleans’ tourist-based economy. Meanwhile, Edwards, who didn’t take advantage of his reprieve, maintained his familiar ways and eventually went to prison anyway.

Alabama is a deep-red state that went big for Donald Trump, but Roy Moore was a candidate who evoked the era of George Wallace. That’s not what Alabamans want. What they want to discuss is how their low tax rate and low cost of living have made the place attractive to big names in the auto industry and advanced manufacturing. Less than 40 miles down Interstate 20 from Birmingham, Mercedes has a big plant. Off the same highway, about 40 miles on the other side of Birmingham, Honda employs about 4,000 people in a town called Lincoln. Yep, there’s a Lincoln, Alabama.

Yes, sir -- it’s a new world, except in Tuscaloosa, where the University of Alabama football team is pursuing another college football championship. “Roll Tide!”

Democrats: Party strategists plotting a congressional takeover in 2018 must have liked how young voters behaved Tuesday. In 2012, while running against President Obama, Mitt Romney carried voters ages 18 to 44 in Alabama. Roy Moore sure didn’t. Jones carried that cohort by some 20 points on Tuesday.

In next year’s midterms -- and in every election thereafter -- more millennial generation voters will be eligible to vote than baby boomers. It’s unlikely the GOP will field many more Roy Moores, but coming on the heels of their wins in Virginia, Democrats have seen the future, and it works. Right now, their party is better aligned on millennial priorities than the Republican Party. 

LOSERS:

Roy Moore: Coming up short in a close election is one thing. No disgrace in that. As in a heavyweight boxing match, only one fighter can win. That doesn’t mean the loser is a bum. In this case, however, the decision to run for office, which cost his party a Senate seat it couldn’t afford to lose, brought out unflattering attention to Moore’s moral character and did damage to the pro-life movement and Christian evangelism, both of which Moore claims to care about.

As if all that wasn’t enough, on the last day of the campaign, he brought ridicule on himself for the awkward way he rode a horse: half-English, half-western -- a clueless style that will now be known as full-Roy Moore. 

Mitch McConnell: Yes, he’s on both the nice and the naughty lists. As Fox News analyst Brit Hume pointed out Tuesday night, two bullets were aimed at the Senate Republican establishment in this election. Dodging one -- the traveling circus that would have been Sen. Ray Moore (R-Gadsden Mall) -- meant getting hit by the other: namely, seeing their majority in the Senate reduced to a single seat. That’s what McConnell has to deal with now. Insert your favorite “herding cats” joke here.

Donald J. Trump: It’s hard to underestimate what a circular firing squad this was for the White House, much of it brought on by the president himself. First of all, Trump created the Senate vacancy by appointing Alabama Sen. Jeff Session as attorney general, a job Trump’s been trying to get him to leave almost since the day he took it.

Then, the president endorsed Luther Strange, the establishment Republican named as the interim senator. When the voters rejected Trump’s choice, he went all-in for Moore, but after hesitating in the face of Moore’s sexual improprieties. The president then got in various Twitter squabbles on this subject, which one would think is the very last topic he’d want to discuss. Next, right after Trump decided he really wanted Moore in the Senate, the guy lost. If Trump grows a beard, it wouldn’t be surprising. It might be difficult for a guy who often calls other people losers to look in the mirror for a while.

Stephen K. Bannon: Speaking of not shaving (and losing), the only thing populist would-be kingmaker Steve Bannon has to show for his efforts at shaking up the GOP establishment -- besides gaining a reputation for going on TV looking like an unmade bed -- is that he’s now handed the Democrats a Senate seat. Bannon’s role in helping Trump get elected is undeniable (except by Trump himself). There’s even a book about it, a very good one. Roy Moore proved a tougher sell. Alabama’s result suggests that if Bannon persists on running his anti-establishment conservatives in GOP primaries, he could very well hand the levers of power to the Democrats.

Gloria Allred: The women who accused Roy Moore of stalking, fondling, and kissing them when they were teenagers were thoroughly vetted by The Washington Post. Allred, the famed feminist lawyer from Los Angeles, wasn’t as meticulous. She held the press conference first, and checked out key details second. Her client Beverly Young Nelson told of a near-rape that sounded more like a Harvey Weinstein-style assault than Roy Moore’s modus operandi.

Nelson also said Moore had signed her high school yearbook and that she’d never encountered him since he assaulted her in the parking lot outside the Olde Hickory House, a barbeque place where she waitressed. It turned out Moore was the judge who signed her divorce decree. Moore denied knowing her, said he’d never been to the restaurant in question, and that his signature was forged. Four days before the election, Nelson admitted that she’d added two lines to the yearbook inscription herself. This meant that she’d lied at the original press conference. The Moore campaign pounced on this, using it to undermine her entire testimony.

It may be that Moore assaulted her when she was 16 -- he does appear to have signed her yearbook with a florid inscription -- but if Moore had eked out a victory, Allred would have much to answer for.

Al Franken: The accusations of sexual misconduct against the Minnesota Democrat aren’t nearly as serious as those against Moore. But they are more recent and they keep coming in, eight so far. As Democrats waited in ambush to make Moore’s tenure in Washington a living hell -- and as they re-litigate the sexual harassment claims made in 2016 against Trump -- Franken became expendable, collateral damage in the partisan war of attrition that constitutes public service these days.

And so Franken announced that he would heed the call of almost every female Democratic senator (and more than a dozen male colleagues), and resign his seat. But Franken didn’t actually resign, and he didn’t announce a formal departure date. And now Roy Moore is not coming to Washington. The thought occurs: Did Doug Jones’ victory change the equation for Franken? Can he announce he’s staying after all? If so, then he could be on both the winners and losers lists, too, just like his nemesis, Mitch McConnell.

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.



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