Democrats found a way to win in Trump country. And they did it against a candidate who sought to run the playbook written by President Donald Trump.
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Doug Jones secured himself three years in the Senate as a Democrat from Alabama despite the forces of Trump and Trumpism, the partial backing of the GOP establishment, and quite favorable red-state terrain.
This set of circumstances, with this damaged a Republican candidate in Roy Moore, is unlikely to present itself again. The rejection of a man who stands accused of multiple instances of sexual misconduct perhaps shouldn’t be all that surprising.
But for a night, at least, Democrats can celebrate a triumph over tribalism. The Trump resistance joined forces with the Me Too movement – with explosive political consequences, when it rallied behind Democrat Doug Jones.
The win broke an 0-for-5 streak in Trump-era special elections for seats previously held by Republicans. It’s a feat they hope to replicate many more times next year and beyond.
Jones won with strong turnout among black voters and with a sharp break in his favor among women, particularly in the suburbs.
Jones locked down the votes of women with children under 18 at home by a 34-point margin, according to exit polls. He won independents by a nine-point margin, all in a state that supported Trump by nearly 28 points barely a year ago.
Most immediately, the victory will mean a smaller margin for error for Republicans on policy votes in Congress. By slicing the GOP’s majority in half, it’s now far more likely that the Senate will be in play in next year’s midterm elections.
Republicans will feel more urgency to pass tax reform before the end of the year. Democrats will pressure them to wait for Jones’ swearing in, which will likely come in early January.
The defeat of Moore is a major setback for the White House, the Republican National Committee, and those congressional Republicans who calculated that the extra vote in the Senate was worth Moore’s considerable baggage.
Trump tweeted congratulations to Jones. But he also included a reminder of how close the race was, and how Republicans will get another shot at the seat down the line.
“The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win,” the president tweeted. “The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!”
Moore’s defeat is a particular blow to Steve Bannon, perhaps Moore’s most prominent and consistent supporter. In the post-election finger-pointing, the president’s former chief strategist will see considerable wagging in his direction.
Oddly, though, many Republicans are quietly celebrating his loss.
They won’t have to confront thorny issues of how to handle Moore both as a senator and as they prepare to defend their congressional majorities next year.
For Democrats, Jones’ win validates the “play everywhere” strategy being advocated by the DNC and other national entities. The win is likely to help recruiting efforts in other deep-red states with Senate races that – for now, at least – seem like longshots: Nebraska, Wyoming, and Mississippi – Alabama’s neighbor.
The president sought to close the Moore campaign out with the slogan that marked his rise, declaring that the voters of Alabama needed to elect Moore in order to “Make America Great Again.”
Voters in Alabama got to make their own judgment on whether Moore’s vision for American greatness was theirs as well. Democrats will have more such opportunities in the year ahead. Republican candidates won’t always make it so easy for them.