WASHINGTON – It took a near-miraculous confluence of factors for a pro-choice Democrat to win the state of Alabama — but it happened Tuesday. The ruby-red Republican state delivered a stunning win to Democrat Doug Jones, now elected to the U.S. Senate pending a potential recount.
Last time Democrats didn’t even mount a campaign in Alabama. A write-in Democratic candidate lost to Jeff Sessions by a nearly inconceivable margin of almost 95 per cent. This time the Democrat won by 1.5 per cent, according to the initial count.
Here are six ways this shapes American politics.
1 — Passing bills just got harder for the GOP. Republicans now hold just a one-vote majority in the Senate. That means their legislation can be defeated, and their judicial appointments blocked, whenever two Republicans defect and vote with the Democrats and Democrat-leaning Independents, down from the current three. This gives Republican moderates like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski near-veto power.
2 — Republican infighting. The GOP has been a tinderbox of internal tension, and this is one more spark. Recriminations began before votes were even counted. The party establishment swiftly blamed the nationalist, alt-right wing for elevating controversial candidates like Roy Moore. It was party insurgents who propelled the gay-bashing, anti-Muslim, accused one-time molester of adolescents to the nomination. A close confidant of congressional leader Mitch McConnell pointed this out, even while counting was still underway. Josh Holmes tweeted: ”I’d just like to thank Steve Bannon for showing us how to lose the reddest state in the union.” Anti-Trump senator Jeff Flake, who even donated to the Democrat, tweeted: ”Decency wins.” The party’s other wing has grounds for its own grievances. Expect Bannon and others to castigate party elites for failing to support Moore, by holding back funding and endorsements. Bannon’s Breitbart website offered an early taste of that line of counter-attack, with the headline: ”Republican Saboteurs Flip Seat To Dems.”
3 — Democrats energized. After a dominant performance last month in races across the country, Democrats now have ample reason to believe they can reclaim the House of Representatives in next year’s midterms. Turnout has been unexpectedly high in Democrat areas. Recruitment of candidates and fundraising has accelerated. The party can now point to its longshot win in Alabama, as it tries recruiting star candidates for closer anticipated races.
4— Start the Senate-watch. Just winning one of two congressional chambers next year would give Democrats the power to stall bills and launch investigations, denting Trump’s presidency. But the ultimate prize isn’t the House — it’s the Senate. Until Tuesday night, it seemed positively unattainable for them. By a fluke of the calendar, the Senate seats up for election next year are overwhelmingly Democratic, placing the party mostly in defensive mode, with few opportunities for pickups. But the astronomical odds have just narrowed. To end the GOP majority, Democrats now need just two Republican seats, and they will be gunning hard in Nevada, Arizona and elsewhere, while defending their own two-dozen seats up for grabs. Why does the Senate matter so much? The upper chamber doesn’t just have power over which bills pass. It’s also the chamber that approves presidential nominations — to the cabinet, federal agencies, and the Supreme Court, where several incumbent justices are over 75 years old and nominees over the coming years could decide hot-button issues like abortion.
5 — Spotlight on the White House. Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham speculated that Democrats will try turning this momentum against President Donald Trump. She said they will recycle sexual-misconduct allegations against him, compare them to Moore’s, point to voters’ rejection of Moore, and argue the president should be investigated. That’s already begun. Several Democrats have been calling for investigations, or even for Trump’s resignation. The grumbling about the president extends to his own side. Fearing a tidal wave in next year’s midterms, some Republicans started pressing the president to adjust his behaviour. Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, on CNN, called Tuesday a wake-up call for Trump: ”It is a very clear warning shot.” He urged the president to tone down the constant conflict and chaos, as it’s turning off voters: ”It’s just debilitating. It wears people out… (People are) worn out by the daily controversy coming from the president’s Twitter feed.”
6 — Roy Moore might disappear. To a number of Republicans commenting late Tuesday, this is the silver lining. They speculated Democrats would have constantly reminded voters of this lawmaker — who called for homosexuals to be jailed, for Muslims to be barred from Congress, and who was reportedly once banned from a mall for his alleged habit of creeping on adolescent girls. They said Democrats would have turned Moore into the poster-boy for their party, and campaigned against him next year, in places far less hospitable to Republicans than Alabama.