To Both Parties, Moore's Loss Is a Potential Win for 2018
Doug Jones’ victory over scandal-plagued Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s Senate special election delivered a gut punch to Donald Trump, putting the president’s legislative agenda -- and the GOP’s already tenuous grip on the upper chamber -- in jeopardy. Once Jones is seated early next year, Republicans will hold just a perilous 51-49 majority. And while Democrats’ path is narrow, their upset victory in Alabama gives them a shot at gaining control in 2018.
But Republicans who opposed Moore have characterized the loss as a longer-term gain for the party. In a sign of the cockeyed dynamics of the race, some are breathing sighs of relief as they no longer face the liabilities that were sure to come if the alleged sexual predator became their colleague. Some GOPers are also pointing fingers at former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who championed Moore through the election.
“Tonight’s results are clear – the people of Alabama deemed Roy Moore unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner, who withdrew support from the candidate amid the scandal.
The Jones win comes as the country faces a reckoning on the issue of sexual misconduct, with the political world catching up to a significant cultural shift. Allegations against Moore hovered over the campaign in the final weeks and caused a rift within his party, with many lawmakers distancing themselves from the GOP nominee while Trump and the Republican National Committee embraced him.
The loss stunned the political world, leaving even Jones speechless. “I think I have been waiting all my life and now I just don’t know what the hell to say,” he said at his victory party in Birmingham, reflecting the shock many in both parties felt at the prospect of a Democratic senator representing ruby-red Alabama.
Democrats immediately seized upon the victory as a harbinger of things to come in 2018. In a fundraising pitch for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, Sen. Chris Van Hollen wrote, “If we can win in Alabama, we can win anywhere.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren put forward a similar message in a fundraising email for her affiliated PAC. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Sen. Ted Cruz next year in Texas, also attempted to raise money off Jones’ once-unlikely win. “Tonight, the eyes of the nation were on Alabama,” O’Rourke wrote to supporters. “Tomorrow, Texas and 2018.”
The party also saw reflections of its victories in Virginia last month in the Alabama results -- and more importantly, foreshadowing of a strategy for 2018. Turnout among black voters surged in highly Democratic areas, helping fuel the massive swell of support for Jones among the Democratic base. In Dallas County, the area including Selma that is overwhelmingly black, Hillary Clinton won with two-thirds of the vote, but Jones won nearly three-quarters.
On the flip side, Moore also performed poorly with the Republican base, including in suburban, educated areas, the same trend that doomed the GOP in Virginia. In Shelby County, for example -- an area that includes the Birmingham suburbs -- Trump last year won nearly three-quarters of the vote. Moore won just over 55 percent.
“Tonight represents a great victory for the state of Alabama and a harbinger of difficult times to come for Republican Senate candidates throughout the country,” said J.B. Poersch, who runs Senate Majority PAC, a top Democratic super PAC.
Tuesday’s result is likely to deepen the divide between the two camps within the Republican Party -- McConnell and the establishment wing, and Steve Bannon and his grassroots army. For allies of McConnell -- who spent millions against Moore in the primary but didn’t lift a finger in the general election -- Tuesday’s results were a lesson to take into next year’s primaries.
“Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the president of the United States into his fiasco,” said Steven Law, who runs Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to McConnell.
Moore’s loss marks the second defeat for the president in Alabama, a state he won by 28 percentage points. In the primary, Trump campaigned for incumbent Luther Strange -- who had been appointed to succeed now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- only to see Moore win. Trump then stood by Moore amid sexual assault allegations, endorsing him again in the final days of the campaign.
For his part, the president took an uncharacteristically measured tone in responding to the results: “Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory. The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!”
Wednesday morning, however, he took a different -- and more familiar -- tack. “The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right!” he tweeted. “Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!”