Alabama Senate upset pushes predictions of 2018 Democratic wave
What a difference one election makes. Except it’s not just one election.
Sen.-elect Doug Jones of Alabama (don’t you just love reading that?) came from behind to win over accused sexual predator Roy Moore. Although media were saying the race was too close to call, they were all expecting a Moore win.
A thin plurality of the people of Alabama didn’t buy into that narrative. Neither did Doug Jones, and neither did Democrats. Most important, neither did the grassroots groups who got voters to the polls.
Media have been slow to notice a trend in Democratic wins, focusing on a handful of close legislative losses in districts that are lopsidedly red, such as Jon Ossoff’s failure to win a House seat in Georgia. Now, that’s changing. The list of Democratic wins and competitive races is impressive and growing:
- Two gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey.
- State legislative race victories all over the map, many of them flipping seats from red to blue: Virginia, Oklahoma, Georgia, Pennsylvania—heck, I can’t even list them all. There have been 33 flipped seats in 2017, two dozen seats just on Nov. 7.
- Even when seats failed to flip, the margins of loss are cut severely. In Iowa, for example, seats that used to be won by Republicans by 30-plus points are narrowing to 10-point margins.
A story from McClatchy summed up Democrats’ growing confidence:
“There’s no other way to argue it to except for the objective fact that our people are voting in droves, and their people are staying home in droves,” said Gov. Jay Inslee, governor of Washington and chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. “And when that happens, you have massive swings toward the blue part of the spectrum.”
Inslee’s group is targeting dozens of governor’s mansions held by GOP incumbents next year.
No one’s feeling cocky. Democrats still face an uphill battle nationally, with 26 Senate seats to defend (Minnesota is the added race after Al Franken’s resignation) and far too many House districts gerrymandered by the GOP to keep those seats in Republican hands. But more races are being contested, and continued victories are providing growing confidence for Team Blue.
CNN’s Chris Cillizza delivered his analysis on “8 numbers out of Alabama that should terrify Republicans.” Basically, this was about how voting skewed:
- Moore won only older voters. Moore got 54 percent of voters 45 and older while Jones got 61 percent of those 18-44.
- Women with children voted for Doug Jones, especially mothers with children under 18.
- Moderates went heavily for Jones.
- Trump approval-disapproval numbers were even at 48 percent.
- Moore and Jones were basically even on the question of “who shares your values.”
- The Democratic Party is more popular than the Republican Party, 47 percent to 43 percent. In Alabama.
- Moore’s support was primarily rural (much lower population) while Jones’ support was urban (big voting numbers).
- Black voters were energized and made the difference.
There’s a lot of reasons for Republicans to be very nervous. Obviously Alabama is not the US and Moore is not every Republican candidate running in 2018. Still, there are lots of warning signs in the Alabama data for the GOP heading into next year.
Even the usually cautious FiveThirtyEight sees signs pointing to a wave election for Democrats:
But Moore’s defeat is part of a larger pattern we’ve seen in special elections so far this year, one in which Democrats have greatly outperformed expectations. If history holds (and, of course, it may not), the special election results portend a Democratic wave in 2018. …
In a neutral environment, we’d expect each special election result to match the partisan lean of that state or district. Instead, Democrats have outperformed the partisan lean in 74 percent of these races.
Many observers see increased suburban voting for Democrats as pointing to more wins in 2018. As an analysis in the Los Angeles Times put it after the big victory in Virginia:
The trend extended beyond Virginia: In suburbs outside New York City and Philadelphia, for example, Democrats won local races that in some cases have belonged to Republicans for decades, even generations. Although the offices were local, the Democratic candidates in several of those races campaigned explicitly as opponents of Trump.
The view from the suburbs is key because it points to the central problem for Republicans in 2018: Control of the House will be decided in large part in districts similar to those that retaliated against Trump on Tuesday. In California, for example, Democrats hope to win several Republican House seats in the suburbs of Los Angeles and Orange County.
Republicans in many of those races next year will face the same conundrum that befell the losing Virginia gubernatorial candidate, Ed Gillespie: The racially tinged, culture war themes that appeal to Trump loyalists provoked a giant backlash among moderate suburbanites and nonwhite voters.
California’s Ted Lieu is predicting even more.
To get this predicted Democratic wave (tsunami, perfect storm, whatever), Democrats need several factors to coalesce:
Candidates—good ones, and lots of ‘em. Groups such as Run for Something, She Should Run, and EMILY’s List are all reporting eye-popping numbers of people running for office at every level, from school boards to House races to gubernatorial contests. EMILY’s List alone reports contacts from more than 22,000 women interested in running for office in all 50 states. Of those, half are under 45. For the first time in 25 years, every House district in Texas will have a Democratic candidate.
Well-run campaigns. A major reason Doug Jones won in Alabama (besides the obvious fact that he’s a superior human being to teen stalker Moore) was that he visited every corner of the state and talked to voters about issues such as health care, closure of rural hospitals, and technology jobs while Moore was heading off to the Army-Navy game the weekend before the election. You’d never know it from the lack of coverage the Jones campaign received from the media before the election, but Jones’ campaign was a model in how to win.
Overcoming gerrymandered districts. Former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder is leading the charge with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is partnering with Organizing for America in fighting for fairer legislative districts, including taking states to court. But the big changes will come when districts are redrawn after the 2020 election, which is why it’s so crucial to retake state houses and governors’ mansions. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has a 2018 Roadmap and an Advantage 2020 program to do just that, using better data analytics and better training for field organizing. The DLCC had a record fundraising year and aims for candidates to be competitive in all 50 states.
Fighting voter suppression. States have passed voter ID laws, cut early voting, closed driver’s license facilities in majority black districts, and thrown people off voting rolls for being “inactive voters.” And that doesn’t even address the damage that could still occur from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s voter suppression panel, which is going after the non-existent problem of voter fraud. While all these efforts must be fought, Alabama proved that if enough people show up to vote, that outweighs voter suppression efforts.
Getting out the vote. Black voters in Alabama overcame voting impediments by getting to the polls and standing in line, sometimes for hours. There were grassroots GOTV groups throughout the state. They drove people to polls, registered people to vote, and went door to door. The Alabama NAACP had its district offices call registered voters who did not vote in 2016. As a result, black voter turnout not only exceeded expectations but also delivered Jones’ winning margin of victory. And not just African-American voters, but specifically (as is always the case with Democrats) black women.
Here’s one final factor that will do nothing but help Democrats: Donald Trump’s tanking approval ratings, the latest being a record-low 32 percent.
Think we’ll ever get tired of all this winning?
Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 17, 2017.