5 takeaways from Doug Jones' massive victory in Alabama

The Alabama Senate race is over. And ...

Posted: Dec 13, 2017 11:13 AM
Updated: Dec 13, 2017 11:13 AM

The Alabama Senate race is over. And Democrat Doug Jones has pulled off an absolutely massive upset, edging embattled Republican Roy Moore.

Jones' projected victory narrows the Republican edge in the Senate, which is a very big deal for the future (or lack thereof) of President Donald Trump's policy agenda in 2018.

But, there are broader takeaways -- for Trump, the GOP and the Democratic party -- from Tuesday's result too. Here are 5 big ones.

1. The Senate is now in play in 2018

At the start of this year, the idea that Democrats would have any chance to win the Senate majority come November 2018 was regarded as a joke.

No more.

Jones' victory means that for now Democrats are only 2 seats away from the majority -- Vice President Mike Pence casts the tie-breaking vote when it is 50-50. While a Democratic move into the majority still looks like a long shot, it's now not out of the question.

Remember that Trump won Alabama by 28 points 13 months ago. A Democrat hadn't won a Senate race in the state since 1992 when then Democratic Sen. Richard Shelby won. He switched to the Republican party two years later.

Yes, Moore's profile -- and the series of allegations from women who said he pursued relationships with them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s -- made this race uniquely competitive. But, if a Democrat can win in Alabama, a Democrat can win just about anywhere in the country.

The numbers are still daunting for Democrats: 25 Democratic seats are up in 2018 as compared to just 8 for Republicans. But, with competitive races likely for current GOP seats in states like Nevada, Arizona and Tennessee, there is now a path for Democrats to win the majority.

And that is stunning.

2. Donald Trump lost. Again.

Trump went all in for Moore in the late stages of this race. His appearance last Friday in Pensacola was a wink, wink, nudge, nudge way to rally Republican support for the flagging Republican nominee. Trump recorded a robocall for Moore, sent out a series of tweets about the race and generally worked in the final week of the campaign to make this a referendum on himself.

It didn't work. Turnout in rural counties in Alabama didn't match the booming numbers in the Democratic enclaves of the state. (More on that later.) In a state where Trump won massively just more than a year ago, his approval rating was a so-so 48% approve and 48% disapprove, according to exit polls.

There's no doubt that Trump's involvement on Moore's behalf -- against the wishes of a large chunk of the Senate Republicans -- was largely driven by a belief that the two men were kindred spirits. Both, in Trump's mind, faced unfair sexual allegations. Both made a career out of fighting the GOP establishment. Both were warriors against political correctness.

But, Roy Moore, the Donald Trump of Alabama, lost on Tuesday night. And that means Donald Trump lost too.

What it doesn't mean is that Trump will moderate his behavior in any meaningful way. Usually, when faced with a loss, Trump doubles down and insists that somehow, someway he won. This is not a man who will admit defeat even when it's staring him in the face as it is in Alabama.

3. Mitch McConnell breathes a sigh of relief. For now.

Make no mistake: Mitch McConnell did not want Roy Moore in the Senate. McConnell -- and the rest of the GOP leadership -- did everything they could to get rid of Moore. When it became clear Moore wasn't going to leave the race -- and Trump started to weigh in for the embattled GOP nominee -- McConnell threw his hands up and said it was up to the voters of Alabama to decide the race.

McConnell's unwillingness on Tuesday to even engage the prospect of what he would do if Moore won spoke to just how little the majority leader wanted Moore in the Senate.

There's no question that McConnell took a big sigh of relief when Jones was declared the winner just before 10:30 p.m. ET. In his mind, the Moore loss is short-term pain (the GOP margin shrinks to a single seat) for the long term gain (the GOP brand doesn't have to be associated with an accused child molester for the next few years.)

At issue for McConnell is that the forces at work in the Alabama race suggest that his plans to expand the GOP Senate majority in 2018 may be in trouble. If the Democratic base is anywhere near as fired up in the 2018 midterm as they were in Alabama on Tuesday, the GOP Senate map starts to look a lot less friendly.

And that's even before you consider the likely McConnell versus Steve Bannon primary fights to come in states like Arizona and Nevada.

4. The Democratic base is fired up and ready to go

For Jones to even have a chance to win, the core pillars of the Democratic base in Alabama -- especially African American voters -- had to turn out in presidential election-like numbers. No one thought that was possible -- until it happened.

Black voters comprised 29% of the Alabama electorate on Tuesday and went for Jones by 92 points, according to exit polling. In 2012, African Americans made up 28% of voters and Barack Obama won them by 91 points.

That's stunning. Jones matched the performance of the first black president in history among black voters.

There were, of course, extenuating circumstances. Moore was long seen as the Alabama Democratic base as enemy #1 -- due not only to his controversial statements on race, gender and homosexuality, but also because of his long record in the state as a lightning rod for conservative causes. Not every state, in short, has a Roy Moore.

But, this race became about more than Moore by the end of it. Due to Trump's involvement in the final days, it became a way for Democratic partisans to send a massive message -- and warning -- to the President. That message? If we can beat you here, we can beat you anywhere.

And, they delivered it. If you are a Republican running for office in any corner of the country, the results in Alabama should scare you. If they don't, you aren't paying attention.

5. Candidates and campaigns matter

Moore is, was and always will be a deeply flawed candidate. Even before the allegations of sexual impropriety arose, Moore had a history of underperforming other Republican office holders on the ballot.

Yes, he had his core base of 35% or so who would never leave him no matter what he said or what people said about him. And, in a Republican primary, that was enough. But Moore showed zero inclination or ability to ever expand beyond that hardcore base. His candidacy felt more geared toward the 1950s than 2017.

Meanwhile, Jones avoided being labeled a national Democrat and did everything he could to make the race about values -- and who better shared the values of the average Alabama voter. He didn't spend tons of time talking about abortion or guns. He talked about the economy and about how Moore let his own personal ideology get in the way of doing what was right for the state.

The lesson: Even in a state as red as Alabama, you can't nominate a massively flawed candidate and just expect the partisanship of the electorate to deliver a win for you. Particularly when the other side nominated a credible alternative.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe summed that idea up nicely on Twitter. "Yes, Moore was unmoored," he tweeted. "But Doug Jones and his team executed one of the best campaigns in years. Much to study and learn from, both turnout and persuasion."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 500709

Reported Deaths: 9977
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34312538
DeSoto32080403
Hinds31924627
Jackson24482379
Rankin21983390
Lee15530235
Madison14574280
Jones13838242
Forrest13447251
Lauderdale11985316
Lowndes11030188
Lamar10508135
Pearl River9503237
Lafayette8547139
Hancock7728126
Washington7422157
Oktibbeha7142131
Monroe6769176
Warren6682176
Pontotoc6659102
Neshoba6635206
Panola6520131
Marshall6462134
Bolivar6313148
Union602494
Pike5817152
Alcorn5667101
Lincoln5433135
George496779
Scott472698
Tippah469081
Prentiss466881
Leflore4657144
Itawamba4633105
Adams4586119
Tate4584110
Copiah448592
Simpson4445116
Yazoo443987
Wayne439772
Covington428794
Sunflower4237105
Marion4225108
Coahoma4159104
Leake408288
Newton381679
Grenada3706108
Stone359764
Tishomingo359692
Attala331489
Jasper329965
Winston314291
Clay307976
Chickasaw299667
Clarke292494
Calhoun279346
Holmes267887
Smith263850
Yalobusha233747
Tallahatchie227151
Greene219048
Walthall218763
Lawrence212440
Perry205356
Amite205155
Webster202746
Noxubee186640
Montgomery179656
Jefferson Davis171542
Carroll168838
Tunica159439
Benton148738
Kemper141941
Choctaw133426
Claiborne132437
Humphreys129238
Franklin120028
Quitman106428
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94534
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 817054

Reported Deaths: 15320
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1145501922
Mobile724601333
Madison52172694
Shelby37533348
Baldwin37192547
Tuscaloosa35044606
Montgomery34067734
Lee23195245
Calhoun22205476
Morgan20754376
Etowah19811497
Marshall18317302
Houston17345411
St. Clair15983339
Cullman15383292
Limestone15298198
Elmore15161284
Lauderdale14225294
Talladega13802276
DeKalb12622260
Walker11162369
Blount10162175
Autauga9954146
Jackson9844182
Coffee9195191
Dale8880185
Colbert8826201
Tallapoosa7071198
Escambia6764130
Covington6699183
Chilton6627161
Russell627959
Franklin5955105
Chambers5567142
Marion4982126
Dallas4936200
Clarke474583
Pike4722105
Geneva4566126
Winston4502103
Lawrence4296117
Bibb424086
Barbour356676
Marengo337789
Monroe331463
Randolph328763
Butler325696
Pickens315682
Henry311965
Hale311088
Cherokee301760
Fayette291879
Washington251351
Cleburne247360
Crenshaw244375
Clay241768
Macon232363
Lamar222047
Conecuh185853
Coosa179739
Lowndes174564
Wilcox167939
Bullock151644
Perry138340
Sumter132738
Greene126644
Choctaw88127
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