Lessons from the Alabama Special Election

Let's not forget how unique the Moore-Jones contest was.

Roy Moore Doug JonesThere was a lot of excitement generated for Democrats by the Alabama special election for US Senate given the win by Democrat Doug Jones.  After all, Alabama is deeply Republican, as I noted last weekend.  This excitement has led to some wild (in my opinion) assertions about the ability to extrapolate from the Jones’ victory to the 2018 mid-terms.  Most of this overblown and driven by the emotion of the moment.*

I do think there are some lessons here, but none that were unique to this race.  I think they are:

  • Mobilizing voters matters (but I think that lesson was emphasized already by HRC losses in seemingly safe states).
  • Nominating quality candidates matters, even in races that on paper seem like losers (but, as I like to note, the parties don’t really control this, despite the media narrative–just ask the Alabama Republicans).
  • President Trump’s popularity ratings will be a drag on Republicans in the mid-terms.

But,  let’s consider the following predicates of this race:

  1. There would have been no vacancy had Trump not nominated Jeff Session to be Attorney General.
  2. The appointee to replace Sessions would have been a shoe-in for the seat, except that the governor (now ex-governor), Robert Bentley, who named the temporary replacement, Alabama AG Luther Strange, was under investigation for his own sexual improprieties and the Strange appointment was seen as a quid pro quo for Strange to back off the investigation of Bentley.  At a minimum, Strange was tainted by his association with Bentley.
  3. Had Bentley not been removed, there would have been no special election.  This decision was overturned when Lt. Governor Kay Ivey replaced Bentley.
  4. The Republican voters in the state decided to nominate a candidate, Roy Moore, who was controversial from the start and who had a history of under-performing the Republican voting base of the state (again, see my post on this subject).
  5. That nominee was then credibly accused of molesting a 14 year-old and pretty much admitted to dating teenagers when he was in his thirties.
  6. The Democratic voters of Alabama nominated a candidate of sufficient quality that he was able to capitalize of the confluence of factors noted.  I have my doubts that Robert Kennedy, Jr. could have won what ended up to be a narrow contest.
  7. I suspect that the current cultural moment concerning sexual abuse by powerful men had an effect on the electorate that favored Jones.

So, while there are lessons to learn from every election, let’s not get carried away with extrapolating from this outcome.  And, to be honest, the odds are such that Jones will be replaced with a Republican in 2020.

*Perhaps the most ridiculous example is via Slate:  Maybe Doug Jones Should Run for President.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2017, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. de stijl says:

    So, while there are lessons to learn from every election, let’s not get carried away with extrapolating from this outcome.

    Where, exactly, are you seeing this unwarranted extrapolation?

    Is there some secret internet where the Doug Jones fever is exploding? (needs more cowbell) If so, I want in. What’s the password?

    —–

    3. Had Bentley not been removed, there would have been no special election. This decision was overturned when Lt. Governor Kay Ivey replaced Bentley.

    That was new information to me. That provides some new context.

    —–

    And, to be honest, the odds are such that Jones will be replaced with a Republican in 2020.

    Yep. Unless things drastically change between now and then, Jones will be a one-termer. Is anyone actually disputing that?




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  2. de stijl says:

    You are preemptively declaring “Shenanigans!” on something that hasn’t and isn’t happening.

    Ds know that Jones’ win was the result of an extraordinary chain of events.

    However, Ds are also aware that 2018 is the mid-term election that follows a newly elected President.

    Chances are likely that they will perform well in 2018, given recent history.

    They also know that Trump is yuuugely upside-down on approval polling for a first year President compared to previous examples.

    Saying that the Ds will outperform Rs in the 2018 election is warranted.

    Saying that Ds will likely outperform the expected out-party gains normally associated with the following mid-term election of a new President is also warranted.




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  3. James Pearce says:

    @de stijl:

    They also know that Trump is yuuugely upside-down on approval polling for a first year President compared to previous examples.

    They should pretend he’s the most popular president ever, that it will be a near herculean task to pick up some seats.

    Ere they let Trump’s approval rating lull them into even more complacency.




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  4. de stijl says:

    @James Pearce:

    Ere they let Trump’s approval rating lull them into even more complacency.

    Trump is a subtle sly fox, just laying there in wait, willing and able to pounce and kill when we least expect it.

    Damn, I thought we had this thing won and then Trump will tweet the secret kryptonite message:

    “I am Great. You suck! Ur a loser, libtard!”

    And then, obviously, the 2018 mid-terms will deviate from the norm because Trump is an Alpha able to bend the world to his whim.




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  5. gVOR08 says:

    Agree, Dems need to run scared and not take anything for granted. Kevin Drum has a post up on why Republicans are hell bent on passing this crappy tax bill that everyone outside the loyal GOP base and the 1% hate. Long story short, they see the demographic handwriting on the wall and want to grab what they can while they still can. Dr. K adds that the 50 or so reps that feel threatened need to protect their bona fides with K street, the think tanks, and the rest of Wing Nut Welfare.

    But demographics don’t work fast, 2018 is far from a lock. I fear that some of the billionaire boys club can also see the handwriting on the wall and would really like to implement a Putin style autocracy. The current concerted attack on Mueller and the FBI worries me very much. It’s necessary we elect Democrats to preserve the economy and decency, but I don’t think it’s paranoid to feel we may lose democracy if we don’t wrest control back from the Rs fast.




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  6. de stijl says:

    I having a major re-think on the Bernie bros “heighten the contradictions” people who argued that a Trump Presidency would be better than an HRC Presidency because having Trump as President would be a civic purgative in a way that a Clinton Presidency would not be.

    I reflexively reject that argument. But I am at a loss to tell you why right now – it just *seems* wrong, but that’s not really defensible.

    The “heighten the contradictions” people will likely be proved correct. It pisses me off, but I am now am starting to think they were prescient and right.

    With Trump, 2018 will probably be a D wave election; there is no reason to think it won’t be one. Whereas, had Clinton won, 2018 would likely be an R pick-up.

    I would not be surprised if 2018 turns out to be a 2006 style tsunami rather just a wave.




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  7. James Pearce says:

    @de stijl:

    And then, obviously, the 2018 mid-terms will deviate from the norm because Trump is an Alpha able to bend the world to his whim.

    Nah, he’s just a bully who will make the milquetoasts duck their heads or take the long way across campus.




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  8. @de stijl: You seem disproportionately upset about this, to be honest. You did notice the Doug Jones should run for president story that I linked, yes?

    Beyond that, chill.




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  9. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You seem disproportionately upset about this, to be honest.

    I saw the linked story. I even read it. It’s one article from Slate.

    I commented on and continue to believe that the premise of this statement is incorrect.

    So, while there are lessons to learn from every election, let’s not get carried away with extrapolating from this outcome.

    Just because I challenged you, doesn’t mean I’m upset.

    I think you over-reached with your implied conclusion and said so. One guy writing one article on Slate does not mean that all people are now all over-exuberant. You nut-picked one Slate article and treated it as if it were a thing.

    Beyond that, chill.

    Now I am kinda upset. Do you not get that this type of statement is patronizing? You are guaranteeing a hostile response when you say this.

    Imagine I said that to you. How does it sound to your ear?




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  10. @de stijl: Challenge away. But sarcasm and snark isn’t a challenge…it is just sarcasm and snark.

    Perhaps I misread your tone, and if so, my apologies.




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  11. @Steven L. Taylor: Tell you what: I may well have misunderstood your original tone.

    Let me try again: my experience immediately after the election was reading a lot of elation on Twitter, FB, and elsewhere that indicated that some thought there was some keys lessons that could be replicated. It would seem that you did not have that experience.

    However, really, the main point was the list the shows how truly unique the race was (which you did acknowledge).

    So, again, my apologies. Sometimes writing on the internet can make one testy.




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  12. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    my experience immediately after the election was reading a lot of elation on Twitter, FB, and elsewhere

    If your Facebook and Twitter feeds were a random sample, it might be warranted to draw conclusions from what you see there. (Setting aside the implicit bias that participation on Facebook and Twitter is still hugely self-selected, even in These Latter Days.)

    If nothing else, not every Republican candidate will be an obvious sexual predator and religious hypocrite. That’s enough to temper any sort of extrapolation from the Roy Moore case right there.




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  13. de stijl says:

    my experience immediately after the election was reading a lot of elation on Twitter, FB, and elsewhere that indicated that some thought there was some keys lessons that could be replicated.

    Some folks are going to do the Victory Lap thing and get excited. Stuff like that will always happen. It’s just human nature. Partisan folks get excited.

    It would seem that you did not have that experience.

    Of course I saw plenty of partisan bell ringing in the immediate aftermath. Serious analysts know that Jones’ win was a fluke and Jones will likely be replaced in 2020 unless Alabama undergoes a tectonic shift in psycho-demographics.

    My initial challenge to you was that it seemed to me that you read one article from one rando and your take-away from that is that all Ds are over-reacting like the Slate guy did, and that they are fools for doing so. It seemed to me that you were extrapolating from some random fools extrapolation.

    Where else are you seeing this irrational over-exuberance over the Jones win? That was my question.

    (Btw, I do want the password to the secret internet)




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  14. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    So, again, my apologies. Sometimes writing on the internet can make one testy.

    Accepted.

    Please accept my apologies as well.

    —–

    I hope you take this next bit as constructive criticism, and not as petty point-scoring. I offer it constructively and whether you receive it that way is your choice.

    You really should never say out loud

    Beyond that, chill.

    It’s satisfying to say, but utterly unhelpful. I gave you my restrained response. The first draft was unpublishable due to mutiple curse words and personal epithets. You can think it, but say it or type it only when you have good reason to do so.




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  15. de stijl says:

    There is one take-away from the Jones win that Ds should pay attention to and co-opt. Perhaps even extrapolate on.

    It is language and the usage thereof.

    Specifically, Jones’ 12/5 mocking of Moore’s September campaign rally that is the source of all of the pictures with Moore in a cowboy hat and vest and tiny., tiny revolver with:

    “I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment. When you see me with a gun, folks, I’ll be climbing in and out of a deer stand or a turkey blind, not prancing around on a stage in a cowboy suit”

    There’s a lot to unpack here.

    Supports 2nd Amendment
    Hunts
    “prancing around” as the verb, wow!
    “on a stage” – I.e., Moore is a fake
    “in a a cowboy suit” This is Alabama, not Texas. Furthermore my opponent was wearing a child’s Halloween costume in a blatant attempt to charm you.

    Jones emasculated and infantilized Moore.

    Unconsciously, we accept the premise that male R candidates are manlier than their D opponent. They ride horses, they clear brush, they shoot varmints.

    But Jones flipped that. My opponent is a child playing dress-up. That’s pretty powerful.

    Since the Cold War, Ds were routinely demeaned and emasculated (well, the dudes, anyway) and that was sort of accepted and acknowledged as being prima facie true and correct. Ds are wimps; everyone knows that.




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  16. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    We’ve had this dance before. There is apparently something about me or my prose style that triggers something in you where you feel the need to put me back in my proper place. I’m not trying to provoke you, but I do. And it always kinda freaks me out because you (judging by your writing) are a fair-minded, steady-Eddy mensch.

    I get that.

    Here at OTB, Kylopod is a valued contributor. He (or she, I’ll go with “he” for now unless corrected) is smart and knowledgeable and logical. He is on-point. He can muster an army of facts to bolster his position. He is precise. (Not always succinct, but we all ramble from time to time when our internal editor is taking the day off.) Reading between the lines you are only left with the conclusion that this a smart, learned, ethical person who values precision.

    However, if I disagree with him on a matter of fact, or one of his premises or conclusions, I have taught myself to just scroll on by.

    There is something that I cannot define that offends me about his counter-argumentation style. If we enter into debate mode, I find myself being rude to him much more so than is warranted. And I pride myself on being polite! Arguing with him makes me into a person I don’t like and don’t want to be.

    He is not trying to be offensive, but some vague thing in my brain has already decided he has been offensive to me on purpose, that he just insulted and disrespected me. So fight back! Grr! Adrenaline goes coursing through my brain. This is not a healthy mind-set from which you can have a civic exchange of opinions with someone.

    It’s all trash and hugely inaccurate, and it is demonstrably untrue, but my brain thinks it’s true. And all of that is on me. None of that comes from him.

    So now, when I disagree with something Kylopod said, I just scroll down. Typing out my thought and clicking “Post Comment ” invokes drama and annoyance and fight-or-flight mode bonkers time. So “no” to all that.

    I irritate you.




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  17. JohnMcC says:

    One of the irritating features of this century is the person walking nearby talking – to all appearances – to no one.

    @de stijl: Question: Who you talkin’ to?




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  18. @de stijl:

    And it always kinda freaks me out because you (judging by your writing) are a fair-minded, steady-Eddy mensch.

    I try to be. And I try not to response when annoyed, but sometimes I do and I almost always regret it. I am not here to pick a fight with the readers.

    I vaguely recall a previous back-and-forth, but to be honest I do not recall the details. I read a lot of comments and try to be a reasonable interlocutor with those who comment (although some folks have hit my “don’t bother” list).

    FWIW, I was listening to Weekend Edition a few minutes ago and Howard Dean was the guest. The host asked him point blank if all Alabama proved was that Democrats could win in a red state with a candidate like Moore as the opponent, he did not agree, but instead launched forth about mobilizing certain constituencies. He was going to, at one point, say something about the fact that people misunderstand Alabama politics (something about the political class v. the citizens) and started in about what he meant, but was deflected by the host and did not finish the thought.

    His overall response could give the casual listeners unaware of a lot of the items in my list above the impressive that yes, there is some strategy to export from the AL Senate race. It was the kind of thing that triggered this post in the first place.




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  19. de stijl says:

    @JohnMcC:

    Question: Who you talkin’ to?

    Myself.




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  20. de stijl says:

    @JohnMcC:

    Point taken. Working through sh!t in public isn’t cool.




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  21. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Howard Dean was the guest

    Dean was the original ’50 State Strategy’ guy, and Jones basically won because he was on the ballot and his last name wasn’t Moore.

    One of Dean’s main points from that era was that you should always contest races. No race / no candidate should be uncontested even in ruby red areas because you never know what may happen between now and election day. Jones got the Golden Ticket.

    Against a candidate like Moore, Ds can win.

    But just barely, and only if every advantage swings their way at precisely the right time.

    Against a generic R candidate not named Moore, Ds lose 100% in Alabama.




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  23. Infidel753 says:

    @de stijl: I reflexively reject that argument. But I am at a loss to tell you why right now

    Well, there’s the matter of all the people who would lose their jobs, health insurance, or even lives due to Republicans being in power.

    If they and millions like them ever perceived that the Democrats view their misery as an acceptable sacrifice to provoke some kind of revolution, they’d never support the Democrats again, and rightly so.




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