It was a lot easier getting up this morning knowing the headline out of Alabama read: first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in a quarter of a century from the state known as “the Heart of Dixie.” Was there finally a candidate so loathsome that voter interest in integrity prevailed over tribal instinct, country over party? Perhaps. But it is sobering to reflect that 80 percent of Alabama’s registered voters either stayed home or voted for Roy Moore.
If Roy Moore had just been anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-choice, anti-woman, and a raving racist, he likely would still have been elected. But his total package, a pending Senate investigation if he won, his becoming a poster child for the GOP in 2018 and the adverse economic impact of firms deciding not to relocate to Alabama motivated the 49.9 percent of Jones voters, and another 1.69 percent, presumably anti-Moore Republicans, write-ins.
There are many lessons from the race (African-American turnout, millennial engagement, moderate Republicans turning their backs on Moore to write in other candidates), a well organized get-out-the-vote effort in bluish counties, the dignity of Doug Jones, his decision not to nationalize the campaign, even to the point of keeping out national endorsers until last weekend.
There is still a racial divide, with blacks being overwhelmingly for Jones, and Moore’s support being predominantly among whites. A plurality of voters believed Moore’s accusers, but many voted for Moore anyway. Moore won among white women, leading by almost 50 points white women without college degrees and by 25 points white women with college college degrees. Jones got 56 percent of the overall women’s vote and doubled what Obama had received. Hillary carried white women with college degrees, but Jones did not.
For all of Evangelicals’ talk about morality, white Evangelicals went for Moore 80-19. I guess they’re more concerned about the rights of the unborn than the safety of a 14-year-old girl preyed upon by a Bible-thumping sexual assaulter.
Jones’ margin of victory was so slim that millennials and Republican moderates, writing in other candidates or voting Democratic, might claim credit for the victory. But there would have been no victory without the dramatic turnout of African-Americans, especially women. What was particularly instructive on election night was the observation of that great philosopher and Alabama native Charles Barkley that the Democrats mustn’t take for granted the support of African-Americans and poor whites. In other words: (note to Hillary apologists) cut out the identity politics; stop slicing and dicing the demographics; and make clear you intend to deliver for everyone on health care, infrastructure, jobs and economic justice. We all have a stake in those issues.
Democrats now believe they can take back the Senate in 2018 and are looking at Tennessee, where Bob Corker is retiring. They’re also looking at Arizona and Nevada, even Texas for heaven’s sake. Long shots? You bet. This is a time for cautious optimism but also for hard work. Keeping the races local. Selecting candidates like Doug Jones who are attuned to local values. Paying attention to the ground game, including GOTV efforts. Taking no one for granted. Making clear what they stand for.
While we’re rejoicing now, remember how close Doug Jones came to losing. And despite Jones’ assertion that there’s more than unites us than divides us, it’s not clear that Alabama will lead the way to a more peaceful union. But it certainly feels good when people of all persuasions seem, if even temporarily, to speak up for common courtesy and decency. Enjoy it while it lasts.