In the first of our Debate series, Michael Rummel and Caleb Herrin – two of Common Courtesy’s co-founders – face off on the upcoming Senate special election in Alabama.
Turning Alabama Blue
By Michael Rummel
The victory of Judge Roy Moore over Sen. Luther Strange in the special election primary for Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat has opened a door for Democrats in one of the most red states in the entire country. The last time Moore ran for a statewide office, he only won by a margin of 3% despite a calamitous opposition campaign by Democrats. This time around, Democrats have a stellar candidate in Doug Jones.
Two factors about Jones stick out immediately, each appealing to different parts of the electorate. As a US Attorney of Alabama, Jones successfully prosecuted a group of Klu Klux Klan members that bombed a Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four black girls. Jones will need African Americans to turn out heavily, and his current platform advancing civil rights, backed by his history of defending them, should do that. He still has to earn this vote, but he certainly has the credibility to do so.
The other positive feature of Jones’ resume is actually an absence: his lack of political experience. Jones’ time in government comes from his tenure as a State Attorney under the Clinton Administration, but aside from that, he has never held political office. Contrast that to Moore, a career politician and perennial presence on the ballot. Jones will be able to play the political outsider, and may even lambast Moore for his long and controversial career in politics.
What is clear, however, is that any victory for Jones will depend as much, if not more, on the campaign Moore runs. He defeated Strange in the primary by 10%, but turnout for this primary was only one quarter that of the 2014 Senate election, and a third the turnout of the 2010 Senate election. Moore does have his hardliner base, but he also turns off a significant amount of Republicans with outlandish and provocative statements. This is the man that doesn’t believe the first Amendment applies to non-Christians.
If Jones focuses on areas where he can find common ground with Republicans, such as economic and education reform, he could flip a significant amount of moderate voters to his side, far more than would be possible in any other state election. Moore is also likely to depress turnout on the right, as many moderate conservatives may not want to vote Democrat, but may not be satisfied with Moore either. This could lead to them staying home or writing in a preferred candidate, the only option for supporters of Libertarian Ron Bishop. All things considered, the moderate vote is far from guaranteed for Moore.
The rest will boil down to the type of campaign Jones runs. He must resist the urge to run on a purely anti-Trump platform, and instead drive a positive message bolstered by a calm and reasonable demeanor. He must make the contrast apparent by action rather than rhetoric. Trump and Moore will generate enough negative news about themselves; joining in (as appealing as it seems) could quickly turn the race into a partisan slugfest, which Moore would likely sweep. Jones can win this race by focusing on turnout, flipping moderates, and showcasing himself as an honorable man with the best interests of Alabama at heart. It sounds deceptively simple, but navigating that path against a candidate as antagonistic as Roy Moore will be incredibly treacherous.
Alabama still Bleeds Red
By Caleb Herrin
On December 12th, Alabama will decide to keep the open Senate seat Republican despite the possibility of a strong challenge from Democrats. Judge Roy Moore’s win over Doug Jones will put the GOP in the best position going into the 2018 elections.
Populism is very much alive in Alabama. Thirteen out of sixty-seven counties voted for Clinton in 2016. The rest, Trump took by a landslide. Overall, Trump took 62% of the vote. Moore will ride the Trump Train into the Senate. The media is assuming that about 15% of Republicans’ in Alabama have decided to flip their vote to a Democrat. In the wake of their failed bid for the presidency and Jon Ossoff’s loss to Karen Handel in Georgia’s 6th district special election, it is clear that Democrats rely too heavily on polling data that may not tell the whole story. In the Peach State, Democratic leadership failed its first litmus test of the Trump era, a failure it is likely to repeat in neighboring Alabama. In 2016, Trump voters seemed more motivated by hate than ideology, and Moore has continued tapping into people’s hatred of the Republican and Democratic establishments. Jones would have to provide a far-reaching rallying cry to flip GOP voters or his campaign is doomed. His only chance is to frame himself as moderate enough for the conservatives who find Trump’s “fire and fury” distasteful, yet anti-establishment enough to not be cast as a puppet of the Clintonites.
In supporting Jones, Democrats will be quick to laud a recent Fox News Poll indicating that the two candidates are tied, claiming it proves they have a shot to flip the Senate seat. Funds will pour into the campaign account of Democrat Doug Jones, but every dollar the DNC and its’ backers send to Alabama means less money to spend in demonstrably more competitive states like Nevada, where Sen. Dean Heller has alienated himself from Trump-leaning Republicans, or even for Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat in Arizona. The Democrats will also be on the defense elsewhere, as the GOP seeks to target toss-up seats like those of Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), or Joe Manchin (D-WV). Recent polls show that Republican Gov. Rick Scott is tied with Nelson in Florida. By wasting their money on Alabama, Democrats risk losing several other key states to the GOP. Invest in Alabama, and they shall lose in Florida.
Despite Moore’s outlandish comments, it is important to remember that people rarely vote for one party, then another. Independents may flip, but not enough of registered Republicans will. Democrats need support from moderates and some hardcore Republicans to win the seat, but expecting this is the height of naivete. Moore does not need moderates to win. He only needs his hardcore base to show up and vote. The burden is on Jones. I predict that Moore will win by 5 points.