One of the best parts about covering elections is that there is always a result. After all the prognosticating, projecting, discussing and arguing, there’s a winner. But determining the true meaning of victory and loss can be difficult.
There will be plenty of time to analyze the Alabama Senate special election (at least until the next special election on March 13 in Pennsylvania’s 18th District), but here are some initial postelection thoughts:
This was a historic victory for Doug Jones. Of course, Roy Moore had some unparalleled flaws as a candidate, but Jones overcame a 20-point deficit in partisan performance to win. The last Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama was Sen. Richard C. Shelby in 1992, and he’s now the state’s senior senator as a Republican. Tonight’s upset will be talked about for years to come.
The seat is more important than being a bellwether. In the short term, Jones’ victory narrows the Republican majority, making it more difficult to pass legislation next year. In the longer term, it puts Democrats one seat closer to the majority in 2019. It was also the most difficult seat of the three-seat gain Democrats need, considering the party has better takeover opportunities in Nevada and Arizona next year. They still have to run the table for a majority, but it’s now easier with the special election victory in Alabama.
Watch: Inside Doug Jones’ Election Party as Race is Called
Republicans avoid one headache. Jones in the Senate puts Democrats closer to the majority, but at least Republicans on the Hill will avoid the endless questions about what to do with Roy Moore.
The Republican civil war isn’t over. Moore’s allies, Trump supporters, and Steve Bannon will likely blame the loss on the GOP establishment for abandoning Moore, while anti-Moore Republicans will blame the likes of Bannon for supporting a candidate who was unelectable beyond the primary. The fight for the heart and soul of the GOP isn’t over.
Gotta give Jones and the Democrats credit. Moore and the Republicans did their best to give this race away, but Democrats still needed to run a terrific campaign to overcome the state’s partisan lean. They had to thread multiple needles, including attracting funding from Democrats across the country without giving the appearance of a nationalized race.
It’s not impossible for a Democrat to win a state that Trump carried by nearly 30 points, but boy, did it take a lot. Democrats won’t have the luxury of running against an alleged child molester in races around the country, but the good news for the party is that they don’t have to win in many areas as Republican as Alabama to win majorities in the House and Senate. The two candidates who have to pull off similar feats as Jones next year for Democrats to win a majority are Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota (where Trump won by 36 points) and Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia (where Trump won by 42 points). But both of them start from a stronger position than Jones.
The House majority was at risk before Alabama and the House majority is at risk after Alabama. It’s unclear how applicable the Jones victory is to House races given the unique circumstances surrounding Moore as a candidate. But Democrats won’t need to win districts as Republican as Alabama to net the 24 seats necessary for a majority. If they can replicate the turnout of African-American voters, that would boost their prospects in some districts. But that’s still unclear and doesn’t necessarily apply to every race.
It was a good night for the polling average. Neither result should have been a surprise, considering Moore had a narrow 48 percent to 46 percent advantage in the final RealClearPolitics average. But that was much closer to the final outcome than late polling which showed Moore with a 9-point lead (Emerson College) and Jones with a 10-point lead (FOX News).
Overall, a relatively small percentage of Americans vote. Even though turnout was higher than expected, about 35 percent of voting-age Alabamians chose to vote in the most highly-publicized election in the state in recent history.
2018 is going to be a heck of a ride. With dozens of races happening simultaneously and uncertain turnout projections, next year’s midterm elections should be another historic moment with a potential Democratic comeback just two years after humiliating losses.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — For the first time in more than two decades, Alabamians are sending a Democrat to the Senate.
Doug Jones pulled off a stunning upset, defeating Republican nominee Roy Moore in Tuesday’s special election. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Jones led Moore 50 percent to 49 percent.
“We have come so far and the people of Alabama have spoken,” Jones said at his victory celebration here. “At the end of the day, this campaign has been about dignity and respect.”
He will serve out the remaining term of former GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions, who resigned in February to become attorney general. Jones will be up for re-election again in 2020.
His victory also means Republicans are now reduced to a one-vote majority in the Senate.
President Donald Trump took to Twitter to congratulate 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!” the president tweeted.
Moore, meanwhile, refused to concede the election. He told his supporters Tuesday night, “It’s not over,” adding that the race could go to a recount.
The ballroom at the Sheraton hotel here roared when screens showed the race was being called for Jones. Music blared and Jones worked the crowd after his victory speech, with supporters hugging, waving signs and dancing.
According to exit polls, Jones was able to turn out African-American voters and win over more moderate Republicans. Black voters make up 23 percent of registered voters in Alabama, but made up 30 percent of Tuesday’s electorate, according to data from The Washington Post. Seventy-five percent of self-described moderate voters also backed Jones.
After Jones won the primary in August, Democrats thought he could be the right candidate to appeal to moderate Republicans. But they acknowledged they would need a “perfect storm” to win a Senate race in a deep-red state like Alabama.
They got one.
Just over four weeks ago, The Washington Post published a story with four women alleging that Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, inappropriately pursued them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. One of them also alleged sexual assault. Five more women have come forward since then, with two of them also alleging assault.
Moore was already unpopular among some Republicans in the state, who were turned off by his controversial rhetoric and high-profile defiance of federal orders.
He was twice ousted from the state bench — first in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse, and again last year for ordering judges not to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision.
But the allegations were the last straw for some Republicans, including a slew of GOP leaders. The state’s senior GOP senator, Richard C. Shelby, went on national television Sunday to reiterate that he could not vote for Moore.
President Donald Trump, who is popular in the state, stood by the former judge, arguing he needed a GOP senator to support his agenda. But his backing was not enough to push Moore over the finish line.
Jones sought to draw a contrast with Moore, emphasizing that he could work across party lines and would be willing to work with all of his constituents.
David Seale, 48, who said he does not align with a particular party but has recently been leaning Democratic, said he liked that Jones was willing to talk about issues and face reporters. (Moore has made few public appearances since the allegations surfaced.)
“He’s a person with credibility and dignity,” Seale said after he emerged from the Jefferson County Courthouse here. “He has a long history for standing up for the right thing.”
One African-American woman who declined to give her name said she supported Jones because he was fair, and she was also impressed with his role in sending members of the Ku Klux Klan to jail.
Jones was a U.S. attorney in the late 1990s when he took on the case of the 1963 bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that took the lives of four young girls. He convicted two KKK members responsible for the bombing.
As a senator, Jones has promised to work across the aisle.
But he is also likely to be a key vote for Democrats in the Senate. He supports fixing the 2010 health care law, and said he opposes cutting taxes for the wealthy at the expense of lower-income families.
Jones said his victory means Alabamians want to send someone to the Senate who can get things done. He referenced funding the soon-to-expire Children’s Health Insurance Program in his victory speech, which drew loud cheers from the crowd.
Rep. Terri A. Sewell, the lone Democrat in the Alabama delegation, stood onstage with Jones, his family and campaign aides Tuesday night. She had campaigned with the senator-elect throughout the race.
Sewell interjected when Jones during his speech when he referenced going to Washington, repeating a phrase she had used all week.
“Help is on the way!” she said.
Smith said Wednesday she will run for the remainder of Franken’s term, which is up in 2020. The special election will be held concurrently with next year’s midterms, when Democratic-Farmer-Labor Sen. Amy Klobuchar also faces voters.
“It is up to Minnesotans to decide for themselves who they want to complete Sen. Franken’s term. I will run in that election,” Smith said.
Dayton was under pressure to appoint a woman after Franken resigned amid allegations he inappropriately touched women.
The majority of his Senate Democratic colleagues called on the second-term senator to step aside. In a Dec. 7 speech on the Senate floor, Franken said he’d resign in the coming weeks, but denied some of the allegations against him.
Smith, 59, had never held elected office before Dayton asked her to be his running mate in 2014.
Prior to that, she was his chief of staff. Dayton, himself a former senator, is term-limited. Smith had considered running for the DFL nomination for governor in 2018, but decided against it.
She previously worked as a marketing manager for General Mills. She was also the the vice president for external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Her political experience predates her tenure as lieutenant governor. She became chief of staff to Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak in 2006. She’s close to former Vice President Walter F. Mondale and managed his brief 2002 Senate campaign.
Republicans have been waiting to see whom Dayton appoints before declaring their interest in the 2018 race, which Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Likely Democratic. Hillary Clinton won Minnesota by less than 2 points last fall.
Former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said he’s considering the race. Winning re-election in 2006, he was the last Republican to win a statewide election in Minnesota. Former Sen. Norm Coleman, whom Franken unseated in 2008, ruled out a bid last week and has said he’ll be meeting with Pawlenty to talk about Senate service.
GOP freshman Rep. Jason Lewis, who was elected to the 2nd District last fall, could take a look at the race. Five-term GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen told Roll Call last week he would not be interested in running in a special election, citing his work on the Ways and Means Committee.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Doug Jones has largely distanced himself from national Democrats in his campaign for Senate in deep-red Alabama. But three days out from Election Day, he’s brought in some national figures to boost turnout from a key voting bloc — African-American voters.
“I’m here to try and help some folk get woke!” New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, told a crowd of roughly 200 at a rally in Montgomery at Alabama State University.
“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” Booker, who is often referred to as a potential future presidential candidate, reminded the crowd.
Aside from Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who campaigned for Jones in October, the Jones campaign has not called in national Democratic figures to help his campaign after the former U.S. Attorney won the primary.
That could help Jones avoid alienating members of a coalition that he needs to win — which includes Republicans who do not support the GOP nominee, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
But Jones also needs to turn out African-American voters, who make up nearly a quarter of registered voters in Alabama and typically support Democrats.
Jones — who prosecuted two Ku Klux Klan members who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, killing four young girls — has visited African-American churches throughout his campaign. And he has reached out to black voters through targeted mailers and ads.
He was once again at a black church on Saturday, even though snow and ice closed highways early Saturday morning.
Jones addressed the congregation at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma Saturday afternoon, along with Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell, a Selma native, and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
This church has a special place in civil rights history. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke often here. And it’s where marchers began their trek to Montgomery in 1965, only to be met with violence six blocks away at the Edmund Pettis Bridge.
Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis, who led that march and was beaten by state troopers at the bridge, is expected to join Jones on the campaign trail Sunday.
But Jones said his push was not just aimed at the key voting bloc.
“This is not just a question about African-American voters. This election is about everybody in the state,” Jones said. “So while we are reaching out to the African-American community in Selma, and elsewhere, we’re reaching out with the same messages to everyone else.”
Jones also dismissed a question about whether bringing Democratic leaders from out of state could turn off other voters.
“The people that are going to be coming here today have issues that we have in common with the people of Alabama,” Jones said. “I don’t think you can say that with some of the people that are coming in on the other side.
Jones’ comment appeared to be a veiled reference to the Moore campaign. Moore will host former White House adviser Steve Bannon and Texas GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert at a Monday “Drain the Swamp” rally on the even of the election.
Jones pointed to Patrick’s work on civil rights as a reason he was with the campaign Saturday. And he highlighted Booker’s familial roots in Alabama when introducing the New Jersey Democrat.
“I’m looking at my family tree before I came down to Alabama, and we might be related,” Booker joked with Jones.
Booker did reference Moore when he addressed the crowd. He criticizing Moore, who was twice removed from the state Supreme Court for violating federal orders. Booker and Jones also pointed out Republicans have been critical of Moore, and said Jones is best positioned to work with both parties.
They did not spend much time on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore. Nine women have come forward alleging misconduct, including sexual assault, mainly when they were teenagers and Moore was in his thirties.
Jones declined to weigh in about a development Friday where one of Moore’s accusers said she had written notes around a yearbook she signed. The Moore campaign said that admission meant the accuser was not telling the truth.
“Look I’m not dealing with those accusations. That’s his issue, not mine,” Jones said. “So I’ll let them deal with that. What I’m talking about with these folks in here, that never came up. We talked about jobs. We talked about education. We talked about the economy”.
“We’re going to continue to do that right up until the polls close on December the 12th,” Jones said.
Juanda Maxwell, 69 of Selma, is a member of Brown Chapel and was inside when Jones, Patrick and Sewell addressed the congregation. The event was was closed to the press. She estimated 100 people attended.
Maxwell said their central message was to talk about reasons to vote.
“Be positive and give your people something to vote for and not against,” Maxwell said, as water from melting snow dripped from the tree above. “Because if you don’t give them to vote for they may not get out of this weather. We’re not used to this cold.”
While many sitting Republican senators — including Alabama’s own Richard C. Shelby — have continued to criticize Roy Moore, a few candidates who’d like to join them in the Senate have taken a more measured tone leading up to Tuesday’s election.
In several cases, that warmer embrace (or less forceful rejection) of the Alabama GOP Senate nominee is a change in tone from their previous public statements.
The evolution comes as the president and the Republican National Committee have stepped back into the race for Moore, while other GOP leaders who first called on Moore to drop out have since come to terms with the fact that Moore is going to be on the ballot Tuesday and the Senate will have to seat him if he wins.
Watch: In Alabama Race, Jones Has Funding, Moore Has Trump, Bannon Support
In an interview Sunday, Indiana GOP Rep. Todd Rokita was asked a two-part question about Moore: “Do you want to see Roy Moore win on Tuesday? If you both win, would you be comfortable serving with him in the Senate?”
The Senate candidate didn’t repeat his earlier suggestion that Moore should drop out.
“I’d be comfortable with whoever the voters of Alabama send to the Senate, and that’s whose decision this is,” Rokita told local CBS affiliate WTTV’s “IN Focus” on Sunday.
“And I’d be comfortable with Roy Moore,” he added, before praising his anti-abortion credentials.
In mid-November, shortly after The Washington Post published allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore, Rokita spoke more forcefully against his candidacy.
“[The voters] deserve a clear choice. And because it’s so clouded and muddy now, I’m wondering whether they will have that clear choice. So to the extent that they’re not, yeah …” he told “IN Focus” host Dan Spehler when asked if Moore should step aside.
His fellow Hoosier Rep. Luke Messer is also running for the GOP Senate nomination. Asked Monday about Messer’s position on Moore, campaign manager Chasen Bullock said it was “the same as before.”
“Luke has also said it’s up for the people of Alabama to decide,” Bullock said in an email.
On Nov. 16, Messer called on Moore to “step down.”
Former state Rep. Mike Braun, who’s also running for the Republican Senate nod in Indiana, called for Moore to drop out last month. His campaign said Monday the candidate still stands by that position.
In one of his earliest statements about Moore, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley put the burden of proof on Moore.
“Unless he can give rock-solid evidence that these claims are false, he should get out of the race,” the GOP Senate candidate said Nov. 13.
Asked on Monday whether he’d vote for Moore if had the chance, Hawley did not directly answer. But he repeated his calls for Moore to provide evidence of his innocence.
“These allegations are very serious allegations,” Hawley reiterated, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“At least some of them are allegations of criminal wrongdoing,” he continued. “And that I don’t know what the truth is, but Judge Moore does. And I think that if these allegations are true, he should not be running. And he should step aside. And I also think that he should come forward, at this point, with evidence to exonerate himself, which he has not done.”
Hawley said if he were elected to the Senate, he’d want to examine any evidence from the Ethics Committee before voting to expel Moore.
Other Republican Senate candidates haven’t put the burden of proof on Moore, but they have maintained the “if true” qualifiers in denying him their support.
“These allegations are extremely disturbing and if true, I cannot support his candidacy for the United States Senate, but it’s up to the people of Alabama to ultimately decide,” Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn has said. Her campaign said Monday she stood by that statement.
Even Senate Republicans who have called for Moore to step aside and those like Maine’s Susan Collins — who said she wouldn’t have supported Moore even before the sexual misconduct allegations — have hesitated at the idea of expelling him from the Senate and defying the will of Alabama voters if he wins.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell drew attention earlier this month for a shift in tone when, after first calling for Moore to drop out, he said he’d “let the people of Alabama make the call.”
The Kentucky Republican later said his remarks didn’t signify any “change in heart” on Moore. He’s said the former judge should be prepared to face an Ethics Committee investigation if he wins.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which cut ties with the Moore campaign in November, has not stepped back into the race. Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, the committee chairman, has called for Moore to be expelled if he makes it to the Senate.
That’s put the NRSC at odds with candidates such as Montana’s Matt Rosendale, who has praised Moore’s public service and said he’ll support Moore “until he’s found guilty of a crime.”