The political landscape in the United States looks a bit different in the wake of Tuesday’s Senate election victory by Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama.
In an outcome few could have imagined several weeks ago, Jones defeated controversial Republican candidate Roy Moore, who had the backing of President Donald Trump. In the wake of Jones’ victory, Democrats are more confident about success in next year’s congressional midterm elections, and Republicans are looking for a way to rebound.
Late Tuesday, Jones paid tribute to the voters and staffers who supported him in his longshot victory over Moore. “This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency and making sure everyone in this state, regardless of which ZIP code you live in, is going to get a fair shake in life!” he told supporters.
Republicans split on Moore
Moore was unable to overcome allegations of sexual misconduct stemming back decades involving several women who were teenagers at the time while Moore was in his 30s.
Moore stopped short of conceding the race, however, saying, “We have been painted in an unfavorable and unfaithful light. We have been put in a hole, if you will, and it reminds me of a [Bible] passage in Psalms 40, ‘I waited patiently for the Lord.’ That is what we have got to do.”
Moore had the full backing of the president in the final days of the campaign after Trump initially held back his endorsement in the wake of the allegations against Moore.
Trump: I wanted the seat
The president responded Wednesday to questions at the White House about the Alabama race and said that he had hoped for a different result.
“I wish we would have gotten the seat. A lot of Republicans feel differently. They are very happy with the way it turned out,” he said. “But as the leader of the party, I would have liked to have the seat. I want to endorse the people who are running.”
Jones won in large part because of a strong Democratic turnout, especially by African-Americans. Moore was hurt by a depressed Republican turnout and a write-in campaign that drained away votes.
Democrats also saw similarities between the Jones victory and Democratic wins last month in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, which could portend a successful midterm congressional campaign in 2018.
“So you put all that together — the base being energized, millennials overwhelmingly Democratic, suburbs swinging back to the Democrats — and it means that things are looking good for us,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York told reporters at the Capitol.
‘A wave building’?
Jones’ victory in a heavily Republican state like Alabama is sure to send political shockwaves around the country as both parties look ahead to next year’s elections.
And some Republicans are growing increasingly concerned that Trump’s weak national approval rating fueled Democratic energy in the recent elections. In one new survey from Quinnipiac University, Trump’s approval rating bumped up slightly to 37 percent. Another new poll from Monmouth University, however, had the president down at 32 percent, a drop of eight points from its last survey in September.
In addition to Alabama, the recent Democratic statewide wins in Virginia and New Jersey have energized Democrats, according to several analysts.
“If I were running Republican campaigns for Senate, for the House, for governor, for state legislature, I would be really, really worried because there appears to be a wave building and it has a giant ‘D’ on it — ‘D’ for ‘Democrat,’ ” University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said via Skype.
Governing becomes harder
Experts see the Democratic victory in Alabama not only as a rejection of Moore as a flawed candidate but also as a setback for Trump.
He defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in Alabama by a margin of 62 to 34 percent in the 2016 election. However, exit polls from Tuesday’s race found that Alabama voters were deadlocked on Trump’s job performance, with 48 percent approving and the same percentage disapproving.
Jones will now serve out the remaining two years of the term of Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate to serve as Trump’s attorney general. Republicans will now have to push through their agenda with one Senate seat fewer in a body that is already sharply divided.
“We see that Republicans, once Jones is seated, will now have a 51- instead of a 52-seat majority in the Senate, and we have seen time and again, over the course of the year, that they have trouble governing with just 52 seats. Those challenges won’t get easier when they lose one of those senators,” said analyst Molly Reynolds at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
As if to counter the Democrats’ good news on Wednesday, House and Senate Republican leaders said they had now agreed on a final version of a tax reform bill, a key campaign promise made by the president.
Republicans hope to iron out final differences in House and Senate versions of the tax cut bill, have it passed by both chambers and signed into law by the president in the next few weeks.