In these politically polarized times, electing a Democrat for statewide office in Alabama seemed impossible to say the least, but it happened last Tuesday when Democrat Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in a special election to fill the vacancy left by Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate. Moore is a polarizing figure, aggressively supported by former White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon and despised by moderates in his own party. Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake expressed his disdain for Moore by posting a photo of a $100 check he wrote for Doug Jones’ campaign. Moore’s campaign was plagued by claims from multiple women stating he pursued them sexually when they were underage teens. Clearly, Roy Moore is not a typical Republican, but few people gave Jones a legitimate chance to win in a state that is about as red as they come.
So what does this mean? First, I think it means that the candidate matters. Regardless of how partisan a particular region might be, if you give them a candidate who is deeply flawed, most people will not support them. Secondly, Republicans are getting tired of Steve Bannon and the politics that are predicated on fear and exploiting our differences – at least I hope they are. In the Alabama primaries, Bannon supported Moore even when the White House supported another candidate. In the primaries, Bannon’s candidate won, but in the general election, Moore performed worse than any Republican has in over 25 years. Finally, age matters. The most astonishing statistic from the election was how much age played a factor. The geriatric population over the age of 65 was the only demographic that supported Moore by a wide margin (59% to 40%). Voters in Alabama under the age of 64 supported Jones by a full 10 points (55% to 45%) and perhaps even more amazing was that voters under the age of 44 supported Jones by more than 20 points (61% to 38%).
Democrats have a chance to win back the Senate and the House in 2018, but it won’t happen on its own. They still need strong candidates and a far more compelling message that inspires working class Americans across the country. Right now they don’t have much of either. They have a lot of work to do.