The victory in Alabama carries some more immediate political implications, including for Republican candidates who do not find a way to separate themselves from President Trump.
WASHINGTON — Doug Jones’ defeat of Roy Moore in Tuesday’s bitterly fought special Senate election was one of the most unlikely upsets in recent campaign history. But the Democrats’ victory in Alabama carries some more immediate political implications.
A suburban shellacking
Voters in Alabama’s cities and most affluent suburbs overwhelmingly rejected Moore’s candidacy, an ominous sign for Republicans on the ballot next year in upscale districts. In Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham and some of the state’s wealthiest enclaves, Jones, the Democratic candidate, captured more than 68 percent of the vote. And in Madison County, home to Huntsville and a large NASA facility, Jones won 57 percent of the vote.
While these Alabamians, many of them women, may have been appalled by the claims of sexual misconduct against Moore, results like these were not isolated to this race. They mirrored returns in last month’s statewide and legislative races in Virginia, a state filled with well-heeled suburbanites.
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These highly educated and high-income voters, while often open to supporting Republicans, are uneasy with the hard-edged politics of President Donald Trump and part of the reason his approval ratings are so dismal. If Republican candidates facing well-off voters next year do not find a way to separate themselves from the president, they will face a punishing midterm election next year.
Black voters came out for Jones
Democrats struggled for years, under President Barack Obama, to turn out African-American voters in off-year elections. For Jones, robust black turnout was essential to victory. He poured resources into African-American outreach and summoned political leaders from out of state, including Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor, to help in the race’s final days.
Black voters turned out in force, handing Jones a decisive lead in Alabama’s cities and predominantly black rural counties. In Jefferson County, turnout exceeded that of the 2014 governor’s race by about 30 percent, and Jones nearly matched Hillary Clinton’s vote total there. Other populous, heavily African-American counties, including Montgomery and Dallas County, where Selma is, also exceeded their 2014 turnout.
Following last month’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey, when African-Americans helped vault Democrats to victories, the Alabama race is another sign that the party’s most loyal voters are fired up.
Who lost Alabama?
Immediately after Jones’ victory, establishment-aligned Republicans in Washington were assailing Moore and Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, as having handed a Senate seat in the reddest of red states to the Democrats.
“Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the president of the United States into his fiasco,” said Steven Law, who runs a super PAC controlled by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.
But Moore’s allies placed the blame for the loss on McConnell, who withdrew his support after the allegations emerged that Moore had pursued teenage girls sexually or romantically.
“They colluded with the Democrats to undermine a pro-Trump candidate like Judge Moore just like they are going to try to do that in 2018 to myself and other pro-Trump candidates,” said Corey Stewart, who is challenging Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and attended Moore’s election night party. “We’re going through a civil war in the Republican Party.”
Moore’s loss will only exacerbate tensions between Senate leaders and the party’s grass roots and will probably play out in a series of House and Senate primaries in 2018. And if Republicans continue to nominate candidates who are too controversial to win general elections, the party’s internal divisions may cost them control of Congress.
Legislative math just got much tougher
The most immediate implications of the race will be in Congress, where Republicans have been struggling painfully to pass major legislation. They failed by single-vote margins to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the Senate only narrowly approved a deep tax cut whose final details are being negotiated with the House of Representatives.
Jones’ arrival in Washington will make that math more daunting. Seizing on his victory, Democrats insisted that Republicans should not vote on a final version of their tax plan until Jones is sworn into office this month. Sen. Kamala Harris of California tweeted overnight, “Doug Jones should be seated immediately — before we vote again on the tax bill.”
Republicans may not bend to pressure on that front. But next year, they may have an even tougher time passing party-line legislation. And maverick members of their fragile majority — like Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Bob Corker of Tennessee — could have a far stronger hand in the chamber.