It would be hard to blame Democrats for finding electoral hope in the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate, especially when coupled with November results from Virginia. But reading too much into the Alabama results would be a mistake for Democrats.
Alabama is a solid “red state,” a Republican Party bastion. Democrats have been on the outside in Alabama government on the state and national levels for decades. That will end for at least two years with the election of Democrat Doug Jones to the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and presently held by Republican Luther Strange.
Strange lost in a special primary election to controversial Judge Roy Moore despite President Donald Trump’s backing. Then Moore lost the special election even with the backing of the president.
The real story is the flawed candidacy of Moore, who faced major accusations of sexual misconduct dating back decades and involving girls and women much younger than the judge. He accused all of them of lying.
It would appear many Alabamians believed Moore. Amid all the controversy, Moore, who did not appeal to moderate Republicans even before all of the accusations, nearly was victorious.
The race was so close that Jones (49.9 percent) won by a margin of only 1.5 percent — less than the 1.7 percent of votes for write-in candidates among whom were Sessions, Libertarian Ron Bishop and even Alabama football coach Nick Saban. Some people simply could not vote for Moore – and would not vote for Jones. But Moore still received 48.4 percent.
According to CNN data from exit polling, women preferred Jones by 57 percent -- but the breakdown differed greatly by race. Ninety-eight percent of black women voted for Jones, while 63 percent of white women voted for Moore.
Other CNN and Washington Post findings:
• About 30 percent of white voters overall chose Jones.
• White men and women, especially in rural counties, stayed with the GOP, supporting Moore with 68 percent of the vote.
• White, college-educated women preferred Moore at 57 percent. Overall, 43 percent of college graduates backed the Republican.
• White voters without a college degree overwhelmingly chose Moore.
• About 72 percent of white men voted for Moore, while 2 percent wrote in candidates.
The results mean Jones is a long shot for retaining the seat when he faces re-election in 2020. Even if he impresses many in Alabama, it is very likely that a Republican will win the seat.
That doesn’t mean Democrats should not be focused on the momentum gained in Alabama and look to other “red states” in the South, including South Carolina.
An email from the S.C. Democratic Party after the Jones victory proclaimed: “We can win the South.”
It further stated: “If we believe we can win, we’ll put a candidate up in every Republican-held seat in the State House. If we believe we can win, we will elect Democrats to statewide offices in South Carolina again.”
Both fielding a full slate of candidates and winning any statewide office would be achievements for Democrats. With the party holding no statewide office and only the 6th District seat in Congress, there are mountains to climb. Just getting candidates to run in areas other than Democratic strongholds such as Orangeburg County is a challenge.
In speaking to The State newspaper of Columbia, Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon put things in perspective: “Bless their hearts, South Carolina Democrats really need some hope at the moment, and this is it. But the fact is, there’s not a Roy Moore running in South Carolina.”