After what seems like years, the Alabama special election is over. The race to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate featured votes spanning nearly four full months, with one bizarre turn after another, and ended Tuesday night with Democrat Doug Jones pulling off the upset over Republican Roy Moore, who faced allegations that he had sexually harassed and assaulted teenage girls while he was in his 30s.
Let's break down the whole thing via winners and losers.
Democrats’ Senate majority hopes
At the start of the cycle, the math for Democrats winning the Senate majority in 2018 — even in a very good environment — appeared prohibitive. They had only two bona fide pickup opportunities, they needed three pickups, and they had to defend 10 swing and red states that President Trump won. The map was just brutal.
But since then, they’ve gotten the news they need to at least put the Senate in play. Potential takeovers in Arizona and Nevada look increasingly promising. An open seat has popped up in Tennessee, where last week Democrats landed popular former governor Phil Bredesen as a candidate, and now they've nabbed one of the three pickups they needed a year early in Alabama. The math is still tough, but it’s clearly within the realm of possibility now. And with Democrats claiming a double-digit lead on the generic ballot, things are very much looking up.
The #MeToo movement
As I argued earlier Tuesday, I don’t think the results in Alabama say much about how voters would treat similar allegations in any other state. Alabama is just that uniquely polarized and ruby-red. And the fact that Moore still had a fighting chance — and that so many Alabama Republicans clearly believed him when he said his female accusers were making it up — showed the downside of going public with these things.
But Jones’s win has to be a shot in the arm for the #MeToo movement. A year after sexual harassment accusations failed to bring down Trump, they were able to stop a Republican in a dark-red state. Moore certainly had other problems, but this has to embolden other women who might be considering sharing their stories. At the very least, it shows they can have a real impact.
Democrats’ pulse in the Deep South
To be clear: This is a stunning result — no matter what preceded it. Before Tuesday, a Democrat had not won a Senate seat in Alabama in nearly three decades. The party is practically extinct in the Deep South and has been for a few years now, with its gains there gradually fading during the Obama presidency. Racial polarization has made the region practically impenetrable for the blue team, which basically holds majority-black congressional districts and nothing else.
I wouldn’t say this ushers in a Democratic revival, by any means — absent the allegations against Moore, Jones very likely would have lost — but the fact that Democrats could even capitalize on the right opportunity in a tough region has to warm the hearts of party officials and supporters.
African American turnout
Perhaps the biggest story line heading into Election Day was whether enough black voters would turn out to vote for Jones. Given how racially polarized Alabama is, Jones could only count on so many votes from white Alabamians, who usually go about 4 to 1 or more for the GOP. And the home stretch of Jones's campaign featured names such as Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Charles Barkley, along with robo-calls from Barack Obama.
Well, black voters turned out — in about the same numbers they did for Obama in 2008 and 2012, in fact. Exit polls show that 28 percent of voters were black, which is slightly higher than the state’s black population (27 percent) and especially good considering Obama wasn’t on the ballot. The big question is whether this was because conservative-leaning white voters were turned off by the allegations against Moore and stayed home, or because efforts to turn out black voters were just that successful. Even if it was a mix, though, black voters gave Jones the shot he needed.
The gender gap
The 2016 election featured the largest gender gap in a presidential race in modern history, with men going for Trump by 11 points and women going for Hillary Clinton by 13 points. Well, the gender gap in Alabama was even bigger, with men going for Moore by 13 points (56 to 43 percent) and women going for Jones by 17 (58 to 41 percent). That should reinforce the idea that men and women process allegations of sexual harassment and assault differently.
Trump stuck his neck out by backing Moore even when other members of the GOP establishment wouldn’t, apparently believing that Moore had regained momentum and perhaps wary of losing another vote in a closely divided Senate. Whatever the case, it backfired — and in an extremely pro-Trump state, no less.
Dating to the October primary runoff, in which he backed Luther Strange over Moore, Trump has now supported the loser in three straight statewide contests in three consecutive months (the third being Ed Gillespie’s gubernatorial campaign in Virginia in November). Trump loved to point out how well Republicans had done in House special elections, which all happen to have been in conservative districts, by the way. By that same logic, he’s now on quite the losing streak.
The former Trump adviser backed Moore even when Trump was behind Strange, and he carefully guided Moore through the accusations. As Bannon biographer Joshua Green wrote for Bloomberg News, Bannon was instrumental in avoiding a conservative-media backlash against Moore, which might have been fatal.
In the end, though, Bannon was just prolonging the inevitable. And for a man who fashions himself a kingmaker for insurgent GOP candidates, having your chosen candidate lose in Alabama is pretty darn bad. Establishment Republicans were only too happy Tuesday night to blame Bannon for the loss of a really important Senate seat.
As The Post’s Paul Kane astutely pointed out Tuesday morning, either result in the election would be difficult to call a victory for Senate Republicans. Losing the seat would mean their majority was narrowed by half and more imperiled come 2018, but winning it would mean they had to deal with Moore. And even before the sexual allegations, that was something Senate Republicans really preferred not to do, given Moore's uniquely extreme politics and penchant for fashioning himself a martyr. Layer on top of that the fact that Republicans said they'd call for an ethics investigation and even, in some cases, Moore's expulsion, and having Moore in the Senate might have been a bigger headache than adding a Democrat.
In the end, Republicans got Option A.
This may seem redundant given the above, but there was nobody who took a worse beating in the entire Alabama campaign than the Senate majority leader. Moore decided to make him the boogeyman from the very start, sending hyperbolic emails warning that McConnell was trying to stop him. And when the sexual misconduct allegations came to light, McConnell clearly did try to stop Moore, urging him to step aside in favor of a GOP write-in candidate.
Well, none of it worked. Not only did McConnell fail to nudge Moore aside, but by the end of the race, exit polls showed that just 16 percent of Alabama voters had a favorable opinion of the GOP leader, vs. 66 percent unfavorable — again, in a red state. Expect plenty of insurgent GOP primary challengers to use this exact same playbook next year.
Mitch McConnell's approval rating in Alabama: 16%. pic.twitter.com/OThhCfB7bU
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) December 13, 2017
Roy Moore's surrogates
They took to the media to defend Moore when nobody else would, and they repeatedly showed exactly why nobody else would. They compared Moore's alleged relationships with teenagers to Mary and Joseph in the Bible. They compared sexually touching a 14-year-old to stealing a lawn mower. They awkwardly cited a TV host's “diverse background” — apparently a reference to arranged marriages in India (despite the host never having lived there). And even on Election Day, they took to the cable news airwaves to suggest that public officials are required to swear oaths of office on the Bible (they're not).
It was painful, and now, thankfully, it's over.