Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Doug Jones Gives Dems Some Hope

Let's not mince words, what happened in Alabama Tuesday was stunning. A Democrat won a U.S. Senate election for the first time in 25 years. Let me repeat that in case you missed it. A Democrat won a U.S. Senate election for the first time in 25 years.

This isn't Virginia. This is one of the reddest states in the country, surpassed only by Wyoming, Montana, Mississippi and the Dakotas. There are more black people in Vermont than there are Democrats in Alabama. Okay, I'm being facetious but you get the point. Nobody saw this coming. Based on the recent polling - the Fox News poll notwithstanding - it was shaping up as your typical, run of the mill win for Republican Roy Moore.

But Doug Jones had other plans and, for the second time in just over a month, Democrats had a good outcome in an important election. Unlike Ralph Northam's win in Virginia, however, this victory will have a profound impact on the balance of power in Washington for at least the next three years.

So how did this Jones pull this off? Well, first off, he had a little help. Moore wasn't just a flawed candidate, he was radioactive. Exit polling showed Republican turnout was down from previous elections. Apparently even in a state that could give the Beverly Hillbillies a run for their money, people had a problem voting for a pedophile. But while it was a bad night for Moore, it was a devastating night for Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. Both gave full-throated endorsements to the former judge and now both have a ton of egg on their faces.

But the real story here wasn't Trump or Bannon, it was Jones. In short, he ran a perfect campaign. He didn't just play to his base, like so many Democrats tend to do, he made a concerted effort to reach out to voters in the most conservative parts of the state. Like Northam in Virginia, Jones sliced into the margins in those districts that Republicans need in order to prevail and that, more than anything else, was what pushed him over the top.

The lesson here for Democrats is that it's possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. You don't have to compromise on your core principles to win an election. Not once, despite mounting pressure, did Jones ever abandon his stance on a woman's right to choose. But while Jones stood his ground, he made an appeal to moderate Republicans in the state that, if he were elected, he would work with both parties to find common ground. The result was that he won independents by nine points.

Compare and contrast how Jones and Northam beat their Republican opponents with how Hillary Clinton lost to her's. Clinton did the exact opposite. She rarely, if ever, ventured out of her comfort zone. Her campaign focused almost all its energy on turnout in traditionally blue areas of the country, hoping to replicate what Barack Obama had done in both his election victories. So arrogant were they that they didn't even bother to visit Wisconsin.

We all know what ended up happening. Clinton was unable to duplicate Obama's margins and she lost the election. Yes, she still won the popular vote, but her unwillingness to at least make an appeal to rural voters was what allowed Trump to run up the score in those areas. That's how Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania went red. A visit here, a visit there and Hillary might've been in the White House, James Comey or no James Comey.

If Democrats are smart - I'll give you a couple of minutes to stop chuckling ... okay, done? - they'll take a long, hard look at what happened in Alabama and Virginia and commit it to memory. Good candidates, like good sales people, make their pitch to as many people as possible, because in the end it's about expanding your market or, as was the case with Jones and Northam, your pool of potential voters. Jones didn't turn a single red county blue, but he did enough damage in those counties to deprive Moore of a victory.

If Democrats have any hope of retaking the Senate in 2018, they will have to do it by not only holding serve in ten states that Trump won, but also by flipping two states where there are a lot of moderate Republican voters: Arizona and Nevada. Identity politics may have given them two huge electoral wins in 2008 and 2012, but it came at a terrible cost. Today the Democratic Party is more isolated politically than at any time since the Reconstruction era. Republicans control two thirds of the governorships and state legislatures, as well as both houses of Congress and the White House.

Turning that around will not be an easy task, but, thanks to Doug Jones and Ralph Northam, Democrats now at least have a road map that they can use to take them back to the promise land.

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