Unexpected Democratic Win in Alabama: What It Means for Elections in the Future


By Wyatt Zwik, Video Editor

On Tues., Dec. 12, Alabama voters elected Democrat Doug Jones as their new senator in a special election to fill a seat vacated by current Attorney General Jeff Sessions. For the first time in nearly a quarter-century, a Democrat has won a Senate seat in the Republican stronghold of Alabama.

Jones, a former US attorney and federal prosecutor, was an extremely unlikely victor, considering Donald Trump won the state by nearly 28 points in the 2016 election. However, his opponent Roy Moore, a controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Judge, has had a slew of allegations against him for sexual assault, some of which occurred while the victim was in high school. Moore has also made racially charged comments in the past and is known for his anti-LGBT and Islamophobic views. Even with these accusations, many believed Moore would still win because of single issues important to voters in the south, such as abortion.

The surprise win is mainly credited to Jones’s focus on urban areas with high African-American populations, which also appealed to educated white voters to eschew the Republican Party. Furthermore, Jones decided to run a more positive campaign based on policy issues such as healthcare and education reform, instead of attacking the usual rhetoric about same-sex marriage and abortion seen from the Moore campaign.

Social studies teacher Melanie Johnson was surprised at the results of the election, especially because of how traditionally Republican Alabama is.

“First of all, I was a little surprised that it happened given how red of a state Alabama is; they haven’t elected a Democrat Senator in 25 years, so it was shocking. Also, I think they voted for Trump by close to 30 points over Hillary Clinton in the previous election,” Johnson said. “As a woman, I was pleased to see that it seemed as though there must have been a number of voters in Alabama who believed the accusations made against Roy Moore and chose not to vote for him. It would seem, based on the results, that it doesn’t mean that people who are staunch Republicans or staunchly pro-life necessarily voted for Doug Jones because there were a number of write-in candidates where if those people voted for Roy Moore, he probably would have won the election.”

Many see this as a change for the better in politics and society, along with the push back against the recent outbreak of sexual misconduct allegations made against some politicians and celebrities. Sophomore Sarah Waters sees it as a sign that society is headed towards a better direction.

“Well, I think that it really reflects the state of American politics today. It gives me a lot of hope, and kind of faith back in our democracy that people regardless of political lines can come together and do what’s ultimately the right thing for the dignity of our political system,” Waters said.

While agreeing that some change has come from the election, junior Umar Ahmed still believes there is progress to be made.

“I see it as a turning point in modern day politics. Though I felt a sense of pride knowing my country isn’t filled with people that want a child molester representing them, it did sadden me that this is what our politics has come to,” Ahmed said. “It’s not a good sign when we take pride in the fact that a child molester isn’t elected to public office. However, given the nature of the people that Trump has legitimized, this is a good start to countering that.”

There is also a debate over whether or not this is a referendum on the Trump administration, and if it’s an indicator of what’s to come in the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats believe that the win is mainly because of Trump’s unpopularity, while Republicans believe the loss is because Roy Moore was a bad candidate.

Despite the surprise win, this is most likely not going to be a regular occurrence. Due to the massive unpopularity and controversy surrounding Roy Moore, many traditionally Republican voters turned their backs on him. Even Alabama’s senior senator, Richard Shelby (R), has publicly declared that Alabama deserves better than Roy Moore and did not vote for him in the election.

Ahmed agrees, saying the loss comes from the circumstances regarding Moore’s past conduct rather than rising Democratic sentiments in Alabama.

“In terms of [the election’s] implications on the midterm, I’d say it’s still pretty unpredictable because Jon Ossoff in Georgia [during the special election for Tom Price’s vacated seat] had pretty good odds and still lost. People need to keep in mind that a large part of the reason Moore lost is the circumstance surrounding allegations made against him,” Ahmed said. “You had a lot of his base calling these allegations common knowledge rather than condemning his conduct. 2018 is going to be an uphill battle, but if Democrats are strategic with who they run, 2018 might just be the year for Democrats, and if not at least they should be in good shape for 2020.”

While Alabama did lose a Senate seat, Republicans ultimately won through Moore’s loss. He would have most likely been used as massive political leverage against the Republican party because of his scandal-marred reputation. By not having Moore in the Senate, the Republicans are saved from a major political headache in the future. Republicans may need the votes for major policy legislation such as tax reform and healthcare, but it is much more important for them to have better chances in the 2018 elections to potentially expand their majority.

While the special election is a sign of changing times and possible opportunities for Democrats, it’s likely not much will come from of it. It will be interesting to see the effects it will have on subsequent elections and could impact American politics for years to come.