I have to say, I don’t think I’ve watched a Senate race more than I have with Alabama’s recent special election between Roy Moore and Doug Jones. You could not have had two more polar-opposite candidates, and sickeningly, Roy Moore survived politically, with party support, and got a considerable number of votes despite the horrendous and numerous allegations made against him. But it’s not just the fact that a Democrat won a historically conservative state like Alabama, it’s who turned out and what’s so important about him winning.
The turnout data for this election is still coming forth, but here’s just a sampling of some of the statistics from exit polling:
Gender and race:
I don’t know about you personally, but to me this highlights the potential that Alabama had to be a state that could go for a non-conservative candidate (as it is often stereotyped), especially given the situation there. However, as it was noted by the pundits and Twitter commentators, not much thought was initially put into this race, thanks to the Democratic Party’s abandonment of the “fifty-state strategy” popularized by Howard Dean and the negative stereotyping surrounding the state of Alabama (and Southern states in general). However, to discount the whole state of Alabama, in this particular case, as “unwinnable” or “unnecessary” not only damages the potential of any liberal or progressive candidates in these states to have any level of success or support, but it also alienates voters (particular minority, young, non-male, and moderate or independent voters) in these states as they don’t feel like they matter. And this is incredibly dangerous in today’s society, with political polarization reaching alarming and unworkable levels. Not only that, but this special election proved that latter point’s logic to be false, as people of color turned out in record numbers, as well as women and young people (as seen above), and that absolutely swung the race in Jones’ favor. Without their votes, this post might not even exist.
So what can we take from this? Liberals and progressives need to a) stop the negative and damaging stereotypes surrounding Southern, traditionally conservative states, especially concerning the demographics and voters, and b) continuously take every possible route to truly understand and connect to the aforementioned demographics, among others, rather than either treating them as “tokens” or “givens”, and not only as potential voters but also as potential candidates/officeholders.
But it’s more than that. As it was rightfully pointed out, national support poured into this campaign, yes, but it was after the allegations against Moore were made and the race became “competitive” (emphasis on the quotation marks). However, I’d like to argue that the race could have always been competitive had there been a solid preexisting infrastructure for Jones to run on. That infrastructure did get built eventually by Jones’ campaign, yes, but it was more of an afterthought by the national Democrats (see my above point for why that “might” have been the case, and again, emphasis on the quotation marks). Solid infrastructure goes beyond this race, though. If we really want to see progress, quality candidates with quality campaigns, and diversity overall, then we need to build solid and independent (which I consider important, especially given the state of the national political parties right now, plus independence from the national Democrats almost certainly helped Jones) progressive political infrastructure to support candidates at every level within state politics, and keep it perpetually in place for any and all elections.
Now, you may consider me naïve or what have you for saying all of this. “It could never be reproduced anywhere else,” I can already hear, “Alabama was a odd case. Not every opposition candidate will be Roy Moore.” And yes, it will be, if we continue to think that way. However, I firmly believe (from a political standpoint) that a) if you do the same things, get the same results, b) if we as a whole can run quality, serious candidates, we can win elections, and c) we’ve got to think and act boldly if we’re going to get anywhere right now. And that action needs to come from everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, or anything. We need all manner of candidates. We need all manner of voters.
You may see Alabama as an odd case out.
I see it as the first lit beacon of change in an “unchangeable” place.
Sources: Exit poll charts from The Washington Post