Democrats in Alabama and Washington, D.C. celebrated an upset on Tuesday night, as Doug Jones won a narrow victory for U.S. Senate over controversial Republican nominee Roy Moore, giving Democrats their first big election victory since Donald Trump became President, and cutting the GOP majority in the Senate to a narrow one seat advantage.
“Congratulations Senator-elect Doug Jones!” said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) on Twitter. “I look forward to working with you.”
A big turnout by African-American voters seemed to be one key to the Jones victory in the Yellowhammer State, along with a lower than expected turnout in rural counties of Alabama, where Moore was strongest.
Here is what the win for Democrats will mean on Capitol Hill:
1. The Senate majority shrinks to 51-49 for the GOP. As if it wasn’t hard enough for Republican leaders to keep their troops in line in the Senate, now they will have one less vote to play with, as when Doug Jones in sworn in, the GOP margin will be only one vote. Already, Vice President Mike Pence has been called on several times to cast tie-breaking votes – but before, the GOP could lose two Senators and still prevail. Now that will be down to one in 2018. That gives Democrats even more leverage on the budget and other matters where 60 votes are needed for action.
2. But Jones won’t be sworn into the Senate immediately. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday that no matter who won in Alabama, that victor would not be arriving the next day to take his seat in the Senate – instead, that will wait until early January 2018. “Sen. Strange is going to be here through the end of this session,” McConnell told reporters. That’s sure to bring some calls from Democrats to delay action on a GOP tax reform bill until Jones is seated in 2018 – when the GOP majority would only be a single vote, and not two. Democrats quickly started making that case on Tuesday night.
3. Did GOP Senators dodge a Roy Moore bullet? If Roy Moore had won, the questions for GOP Senators would have been endless. Up until now, it was all hypothetical. How would they react to Moore being a Senator? His views on gays, lesbians, Muslims and more. Now, they don’t have to deal with any of that. They don’t have to deal with Moore becoming a spectacle. They don’t have to deal with an Ethics Committee investigation. They don’t have to deal with people calling for him to resign. They don’t have to deal with any controversy created by Moore. But they do have to deal with the battle within the Republican Party on where it goes next.
4. Did Democrats win? Or did Republicans lose? This is first Senate seat Democrats have won in the Deep South in many years, and it may not have been because of the quality of their candidate, but more so because of the controversial nature of the Republican nominee, in Roy Moore. Still, a win is a win, as Democrats won’t be the party that’s fighting among themselves – rather that will be left to the GOP, who found a candidate that couldn’t make it past a general election in a state that went to Donald Trump by 28 percent just over a year ago. Look for the GOP Establishment to go after Steve Bannon for this election loss.
5. Was the difference Richard Shelby and the write-in vote? The senior Senator from Alabama, Republican Richard Shelby, made very clear in recent days that he had voted for a write-in candidate, and not Roy Moore. Did others follow his lead, and register their protest against Moore that way? The numbers show that about 22,000 voters wrote in another name – that’s more than the Jones victory margin. Richard Shelby was the last Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama in 1992 – he switched parties in 1994. And in 2017, his decision may have paved the way for Doug Jones to win.
And even President Trump noted the importance of the write-in vote:
6. Why did Democrats win? Partially the Democrats won this race in Alabama because of mistakes by the GOP. A regular Republican – without all of the Roy Moore baggage – should have won this race handily. The winning margin was something we have seen in other special elections this year, as turnout by Democratic voters was way up, turnout for the GOP was off, and Republicans also saw a subtle shift in voters going away from the GOP and to the Democrats – especially those in suburban areas. For example on Tuesday night, Doug Jones won handily in both Mobile County (Mobile) and Madison County (Huntsville). Both of those counties went strongly for Donald Trump in 2016. Also playing a big role – a large turnout by African-American voters.