A Strong Nominee. A Divisive Opponent. But Can Democrats Win in Alabama?

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Republican primary victory last week by Roy S. Moore initially delighted Democrats who saw the inflammatory Alabamian’s humiliation of the Republican establishment as prime evidence that the Trump era had intensified the right’s unremitting internecine wars.

But now Democrats are grappling with an all-too-familiar question of their own: how and even whether to confront a Republican candidate whose views they find repugnant but who may be unbeatable in a deeply conservative state — no matter how much money liberal donors pour in to defeat him.

Democrats here and in Washington believe that their nominee, Doug Jones, is the most formidable candidate they have fielded for the Senate in this state in over two decades. A former United States attorney who prosecuted the men who perpetrated the civil rights-era bombing of this city’s 16th Street Baptist Church, Mr. Jones, 63, is that rare Southern politician who possesses law-and-order credentials and is esteemed in the black community.

Yet well before Alabama voters go to the polls on Dec. 12, Democrats face a critical decision at a moment when all politics is national. Some in the party believe that they simply cannot write off the South if they expect to regain control of Congress — and that they will never recover here if they abandon high-quality candidates such as Mr. Jones.

But the Democratic brand has become so toxic in states such as Alabama that if the national party rallies behind Mr. Jones and turns his candidacy into a liberal cause célèbre, it could only doom him by pushing Republicans reluctant to support Mr. Moore back to their partisan corner.

After losing a series of special House elections this year, including next door in Georgia, where the Democrat, Jon Ossoff, raised nearly $30 million only to be defeated after Republicans defined him as a liberal, some party veterans are uneasy about swooning for Mr. Jones.

“It’s a very tricky pass for national Democrats,” said David Axelrod, the Democratic strategist and former adviser to President Barack Obama. “Jones is a very, very good candidate, but Alabama is a very, very tough state, maybe the toughest state. And you want to avoid the trap that you fell into in Georgia by building expectations for a race that’s going to be difficult to win.”

But in the eyes of many Democrats, opposing Mr. Moore is as much a moral imperative as a political one. As Mr. Axelrod put it, Mr. Moore, who has a decades-long record of making incendiary comments about gays, African-Americans and Muslims, is so offensive to Democrats that it makes him “hard to ignore.”

 

 

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