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Despite Trump’s warning to Alabama voters that he would be a puppet of the DNC, Doug Jones is likely to be a somewhat independent Democratic Senator, according to Richard Wagner
Contrary to President Trump’s claims, Alabama’s Senator-elect Doug Jones is unlikely to tout the party line too closely. Alabama is one of the reddest states in the Union, and Democrat Jones knows this makes him vulnerable. It was the perfect storm of a historically unpopular Republican President, the Alabama RNC’s extremely controversial pick of Roy Moore, and the #metoo movement’s reaction to the allegations against Moore; that made it possible for any Democrat to win a Senate seat in Alabama.
The Democrats didn’t win on Republican incompetence alone, however. In red southern states like Alabama, the black voting base is absolutely vital to the Democratic Party. Doug Jones has an excellent record on civil rights, including his successful prosecutions of members of the Ku Klux Klan responsible for bombing a black church in 1963, which killed four girls. Black voters seemed apathetic during the Presidential Race last year, partly contributing to Trump’s narrow victory. The Democrats were wise to appeal to them in this special election in Alabama, rather than writing off Alabama as another unwinnable red state.
What can we expect from Senator Doug Jones?
We’ve seen this scenario before. In 2010, when Obama’s approval ratings were near their lowest, a Republican Scott Brown won a Senate seat in the very blue state of Massachusetts. Republicans, particularly of the Tea Party variety, rejoiced. However, this was not as much of a “referendum on Obama” as they’d hoped. As a vulnerable, blue state Republican, Brown governed far too independently for the liking of the Republican base, as well as “conservative” opinion leaders like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, etc. Brown worked with President Obama on a crucial piece of bipartisan legislation known poignantly as “the jobs bill”. This bipartisan bill passed in early 2011, and was followed by about a 2% drop in the unemployment rate.
Like Scott Brown, Doug Jones will enter the Senate as a member of the opposition party to an unpopular President, from a state that normally votes for that very party. Jones knows that he can’t hope for the same scenario when he runs for reelection, and therefore he’ll need to reach beyond the minority Democratic voting base in Alabama. He’s likely to govern very much as Scott Brown did. He’ll be a Democrat but will try to get along with Pres. Trump. He’ll be very open to bi-partisan legislation and will hope to appeal to swing voters in Alabama in the future.
This is a Triumph for Democrats, but they shouldn’t get too comfortable
Obviously, a Senate victory in a red state is a great prize for the DNC, but it’s still only 1 Senate seat, while the Republicans maintain a 51-49 majority. Much can happen between now and the 2018 midterms. Republicans historically do well in midterm elections because their voting base is usually more reliable about turning out than the Democrats, and midterms usually have lower turnout than Presidential races.
The 2016 race, as well as what was at best a marginal victory for Democrats in the last several special elections should show that Democrats can’t rely on Republican incompetence to secure their victory. Republicans will vote for a “big, ugly, yellow dog” if said dog has an “R” next to his name. Democrats – not so much.
What this Alabama election does show is that Democrats can win with a worthy candidate, even in a very red state. Furthermore, the Democrats may be able to work to their advantage the momentum of the currently non-partisan #metoo movement. As Democrats are removing their own members who have been accused of sexually violating women, such as Al Franken and John Conyers, they can easily position themselves as the party that cares about women. In 2016, this kind of rhetoric was far less convincing, as the Democrats attempted to put the Clintons back in the White House. If the Democrats, therefore, distance themselves from the Clintons and show themselves to be consistent, they may do far better among women swing voters.