Alabama Special Election: A Chance for Democrats?

Just one year out from the stunning— and unexpected— election of Donald Trump, the Democratic Party may be starting to recover. Though hyper-bipartisanship continues to pull the parties apart, extreme nationalism and the resurgence of mainstream alt-right values associated with factions of the Republican Party have led the Democratic Party to appear the more moderate choice to many voters.

2016’s election put not only Trump in power, but repossessed both the House and the Senate for the GOP for the first time since the second Bush Administration. Municipal and gubernatorial elections at the same time saw Republicans holding mass swaths of seats across the country.

However, 7 November saw a shift in trends, putting Democrats back in power in states Trump carried during the presidential election. The Dems’ big night saw two gubernatorial wins— including Democrat Ralph Northam’s win over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia, and Democrat Phil Murphy against Republican Kim Guadagno in New Jersey.

Image Courtesy of Lorie Shaull via Wikimedia Commons © 2017, some rights reserved

Virginia proved significant for Dems, with victories in competitive races for lieutenant governor, attorney general, and at least 15 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates— currently, and since 1999, Republican-dominated.

Similar gains in Washington— Democrats now fully controlling the state government with a one-seat majority— may implicate a national trend. Mayoral races, too, put Democrats in power, with New York City’s Bill de Blasio winning re-election and Democrat Vi Lyles cruising to victory in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In addition to broad blue wins, new seat-holders also made a great show of diversity, counteracting much recent buzz surrounding the rise of white supremacy and extreme nationalism. Charlotte, North Carolina saw Vi Lyles become the city’s first African American female mayor; similarly, Hoboken, New Jersey elected its first Sikh mayor Ravi Bhalla. Liberal victories nation-wide put LGBT candidates in leadership, including Danica Roem of Virginia— now the first openly transgender candidate to serve in a state legislative body— and Andrea Jenkins of Minnesota— now the first openly transgender person of color elected to a public office.

The election creates hope for the Democratic Party as a whole, which has been widely accused of breakdown and a lack of cohesiveness since the unanticipated 2016 presidential loss. Such 2017 wins are thus viewed widely as referendums on Trump and Republican leadership as a whole, whose popularity hit an all-time low at only 37% approval just a day before the 7 November elections. In this light, recent victories have been considered by many a “backlash to Trump and Trumpism, pure and simple,” as Larry Sabato, director of the Centre for Politics at the University of Virginia, claims. Former Vice President Joe Biden echoed this statement, calling the elections “a resounding defeat… for President Trump” and a rejection of “the ugly politics we have seen this past year.”

This brings attention to the controversies surrounding Alabama’s special election— one of the tightest Senate races in the over two decades Republicans have dominated both the state’s seats. After Jeff Sessions’ appointment as Attorney General, Republican Roy Moore will compete with Democrat Doug Jones for the open seat, with recent polls putting Jones behind Moore by only 6 to 11 percentage points. Even losing by 11 points would make the race the closest since 1996; since then, no Democrat has come within 27 points of winning either seat.

However, recent sexual misconduct allegations against Moore make Jones’ victory plausible, though both Trump and the Alabama Republican Party continue to stand by the candidate. Allegations come after Moore was accused of sexual misconduct with four women, one of whom was only 14 at the time; dating back to early 1979 and continuing throughout the 1980s, a total of nine women allege Moore pursued or assaulted them between the ages of 14-28, asking them on dates, inviting them to his house, and serving them alcohol— all as Moore aged into his 30s.

With seats in the Senate leading Republican 52-48, the loss of a seat to a Democrat could significantly impact precarious healthcare and taxation legislation. This fact may have pushed Trump to make comments supporting Moore: such as his statement: “the last thing we need in Alabama and the US Senate is a Schumer/Pelosi puppet… Jones would be a disaster!” Though whoever wins the seat on 12 December will likely not be sworn in in time for the tax reform bill, waning support for the President and the recent Democrats’ victories have put pressure on the GOP to preserve their 2016 overhaul.

Jones’ progressive positions on issues ranging from abortion to health care to LGBT rights stage him at odds with many of the Evangelical voters keeping Moore in office. However, the candidate’s upset of traditional voting lines may be just what the area needs. Jones, in an interview with The Economist, pointed out that “the number one thing people voted on was health care,” which his campaign website claims as a “right” and a “nonstarter.”

A victory in the deep South would confirm Democrats’ winning streak and inspire the Party’s hopes about 2018 mid-term elections, which with only a 4-seat Republican Senatorial majority, could see a divided government after all. Just a year after the Party’s stunning losses in the 2016 elections, 2018 could be the recovery it needs.