As the 2018 state elections begin, let’s take one last look at the 2017 Special Election to fill the remaining three years of Jeff Sessions’ six-year term which, by the way, comes up in two years in 2020.
It is assumed by most astute political observers that the winner, Democrat Doug Jones, cannot win election to a full term in 2020, simply because he is a Democrat. I am not ready to write Doug Jones off so quickly. I would contend that Jones would not be a cupcake to take on after two to three years on the job. Doug Jones knows what he is doing. He is a seasoned political veteran that will hit the ground running in Washington. I submit that he will be a far superior senator for Alabama than Roy Moore.
The Ten Commandments Judge’s mission in the Senate would be as an obstructionist and the voice of the ultra right wing zealots of not only Alabama but of the nation. This would not do Alabama any good as far as having a senator who is helpful to the state. In addition, his extreme views and statements, along with the allegations thrown at him during the campaign, made him a horrendous caricature nationwide. We would have been the brunt of ridicule on all late night and daytime news shows for three years.
Moore had become not only a joke but also a bad image for the state. We would have actually been better off not to have had a second senate seat if Moore was in it. We would have been better served to have only one senator, Richard Shelby. On the other hand, Senator Doug Jones, will strive to be an effective senator in the mold of Sen. Shelby. He will work with Shelby to bring home the bacon. Sen. Shelby knew this and that is why he refused to vote for Moore.
However, Sen. Jones will still have very little wiggle room in preparation for 2020. He will organize with Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and all of the very liberal East and West coast senators. He is in the same boat with them on social issues like abortion, immigration, and gay/lesbian and transgender issues. If these issues come to the forefront in the form of Supreme Court nominees, Jones may be caught between a rock and a hard place. If he can avoid these litmus test issues that illuminate the fact that he is a national Democrat from a ruby red Republican state, he could possibly survive, especially if there is a contentious GOP Primary with six or more Republican thoroughbreds wrangling for the opportunity to take Jones out in a 2020 battle royale.
This field of proven conservative Republican stalwarts could beat each other up in the primary. Therefore, they arrive at the dance beat up and broke facing Jones who probably has not faced a primary opponent, and is well financed with national Democratic senatorial money, running as an incumbent.
The Doug Jones victory was a perfect storm that cannot be perfectly replicated by Democratic gubernatorial aspirants Walt Maddox or Sue Bell Cobb.
First of all, the national money will not be available in an Alabama governor’s race, in a year where 33 U.S. Senate races are in play, as it was in last year’s race. We were the only show in the country and you had a polarizing figure to energize the national liberal base. There was also an overwhelming 6-to-1 financial advantage that provided resources to turn out the Democratic base. In addition, probably never again will any party have the opportunity to run against a candidate with a 70 percent negative approval rating, who has no money and runs a modern day 2017 campaign similar to one run in 1954 out of the back of a pickup truck.
On the other hand, the Democratic campaign was state of the art. Due to Moore and this being the only senate race in the country, Doug Jones’ campaign was run by the brightest Democratic pollsters and media consultants in the world. They energized millennials and the LGBTQ community to vote in record numbers, along with the amazing unparalleled turnout of African American voters.
It was an anomaly and a razor thin victory. However, it shows that it can be done in the “Heart of Dixie.”
A Democrat won a statewide race, and a U.S. Senate race at that. It gives credence to a Democratic gubernatorial campaign this year.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s premier columnist and commentator, Steve has analyzed Alabama politics for national television audiences on CBS, PBS, ABC and the British Broadcasting Network. Steve has been an up close participant and observer of the Alabama political scene for more than 50 years and is generally considered the ultimate authority on Alabama politics and Alabama political history.