Picking through the Alabama wreckage

  • 13 December 2017
  • NormanL
Picking through the Alabama wreckage

Lot's of ink and pixels spilled already over the victory of Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race. We'll leave the hot takes to others, preferring instead to turn to our friend Quin Hillyer, a conservative journalist who lives in Mobile and has watched the political careers of both candidates for many years. Writing in the New York Times, Hillyer notes the numbers that tell the tale of this contest:

African-American turnout was high statewide, almost 30 percent of the total vote — it usually averages less than 25 percent. At Hope Chapel AME Zion Church in Prichard, a city bordering Mobile that is 85 percent black, more than 700 voters already had turned out by 4:30 in the afternoon, two-and-a-half hours before the polls closed. Linda Robinson, the longtime chief clerk at the polling place, told me that any turnout above 1,000, even in a presidential election, is quite high for that precinct — and that they appeared well on the way to topping that benchmark.

“With Alabama being such a ‘red state,’ this election is seen as a chance to change that,” she said, in summing up what she was hearing from the community. “People see this as a chance” to promote “the issues we care about.”

Hillyer also takes note of the Moore campaign's late series of gaffes:

As for Mr. Moore, his campaign spent the final days relentlessly flogging e-messages that said that the judge was the victim of a smear campaign devised by Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, and his “establishment” allies. Typical of them was the emailed fund-raising plea that included the insistence that “This race will not be decided by Mitch McConnell and the forces of evil.”

Yes, “forces of evil.” Mr. Moore’s team was saying that the leader of his own party in the legislative body he wanted to join was an “evil” part of “powerful forces who hate our Christian conservative values. Powerful forces who hiss and howl at the mere mention of God, morality and obedience to the Constitution.”

This is an example of why Mr. Moore’s strengths and weaknesses are quite Trumplike. He attracts unusually intense support from people who see the entire system as rigged, but by so sharply drawing lines even against his own party, he turns off moderate suburbanites who usually lean Republican.

This is a sign of a candidate who had lost control of the narrative. No longer able to talk about his issues -- to drive the discussion -- he responds to events. That's never a good position for a campaign to find itself in, regardless of the fervor of its base support. It's even worse when the candidate is already well known to, and previously vetted by, voters. 

Hillyer says the outcome is not good for the President:

Finally, there was the Trump factor. The president backed Mr. Moore with numerous public statements and tweets, held a pro-Moore rally nearby, and recorded a robo-call on Mr. Moore’s behalf. But exit polls showed that half of the voters in this formerly Trump-besotted state were now saying that their impressions of the president were negative.

Mr. Moore’s own controversies dragged him down. But the president and his strategist sidekick badly botched their attempted rescue mission.

When a president puts so much of his own prestige on the line in a state overwhelmingly supportive of his own party, and the president’s candidate loses, the buck stops, and the blame starts, in the Oval Office, with the tweeter-in-chief.

We strongly believe the buck stops with the candidate whose name is on the ballot. The President does take a hit from the loss. Is it fatal? If we have learned nothing else from the last few years in American politics, it's that presidents can invest their capital in races across the country and lose repeatedly. But when their names are on the ballot, fortunes change, and they win re-election (the Obama presidency is a case study in this phenomenon).

It would be foolish to write the president off, just as it was foolish to believe that the 2010 wave election that flipped control of the House from Democrat to Republican meant Brack Obama was cooked in 2012. We know how that story ends.