If Alabama’s U.S. Senate election was held tomorrow, incumbent Democrat Sen. Doug Jones likely would lose by 20 points. This assumes, of course, that his opponent is not former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
The odds of a 2017 Jones-Moore rematch are low considering Moore finds himself running behind U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne and former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville.
But even if Jones got Moore in a rematch, he would still be likely to lose by 8-10 points with President Donald Trump at the top of the 2020 general election ballot.
In the meantime, there are some things Jones could do to improve his chances, especially in Mobile and Baldwin counties. One of the few advantages Jones has over his Republican opponents is fundraising. According to his second-quarter 2019 Federal Election Commission report, Jones pulled in $2 million to raise his cash-on-hand total to $4.2 million.
Only two of his Republican opponents have joined him in breaking $1 million in fundraising: Byrne ($2.4 million) and Tuberville ($1.3 million). Those two still have a difficult primary ahead of them with Moore, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and State Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, between them and the GOP nod.
Jones, as of now, has no challengers for the Democratic nomination. That means he can stockpile cash as the candidates on the Republican side burn through it in their quest for the nomination.
Jones’ supporters will tell you they are hoping for another miracle scenario, where somehow Moore wins the nomination, and Trump suffers an October surprise or similar struggle that depresses Alabama’s Republican turnout – improving Jones’ chances for reelection.
That is not a winning approach.
Overcoming an electorate that is prone to select the straight-party ticket option will undoubtedly prove to be a challenge. That is why Jones must make it an issue-driven campaign.
But he should avoid the instinct to push for his current convoluted Medicaid expansion plan. Even if he has the best of intentions to stymie rural hospital closures, it is not a winning message.
Keep in mind, Democrats took a shot at healthcare in 2010. Our national media does not talk much about it, but Alabamians and most Americans do not view the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, favorably. It is one of the reasons the Democrat presidential candidates want a do-over on healthcare.
In a Republican-leaning state, another solution that involves the heavy hand of government is not a winner.
Jones also should not run against Trump. In fact, in some ways, he should run with Trump. Jones doesn’t have to go all-in MAGA. But instead, acknowledge that his presidency has not been the disaster Jones’ Democratic colleagues proclaim it to be.
What Jones needs is to take ownership of the Mobile River Bridge issue.
Here is the case he should make: The bridge has been under the leadership of three consecutive Republican governors and two decades of Republicans in the U.S. Senate (Sen. Richard Shelby was a Democrat until 1995) and still the people Southwest Alabama find themselves facing the threat of an exorbitant toll.
Democratic leadership did not cause the toll controversy. In fact, all the existing Mobile River crossings, which are untolled, came all or mostly under the leadership of Democrats in Alabama.
Bringing in federal money to your home state is not exactly a conservative Republican idea. Granted, Shelby has made a mockery of the Republican label with his penchant for steering federal money to his home state.
However, as a Democrat Jones is not wedded to an ideology that rejects the growth of government. And bankrolling a $2.1-billion bridge falls under the category of the growth of government.
There is another case to be made: Shelby could be nearing the end of his four-decade run on Capitol Hill. In addition to that, Alabama’s seniority in the House of Representatives, on the other side of the Capitol, is taking a hit with the departures of Reps. Byrne and Martha Roby. Jones must ask constituents if now is the time to send another freshman to represent the state in the U.S. Senate, especially as the state is more reliant than ever upon the federal government to continue economic expansion.
There is a lot for Alabama’s junior U.S. Senator to overcome. The Alabama Republican Party is going to try to marry Doug Jones to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and other unpopular Democrats.
The electorate will also be reminded of Jones’ vote against Brett Kavanaugh for U.S. Supreme Court associate justice, who had the support of most Alabamians.
When that time comes, Jones should have the resources to counter those attacks. Marrying his candidacy to the Mobile River Bridge issue is a good place to start.
In 2020, Jones will have a floor of 30 to 35 percent of the vote, which is locked in as Democrat. The floor could be higher based on what happens in the presidential election. There probably are not that many Republican voters willing to cross party lines for Medicaid expansion or any of the other liberal causes in the traditional Democrat playbook.
For that reason, Jones must figure out how to take ownership of issues like the Mobile River Bridge and tolls. No, it may not be a federal issue exactly, but it is one on which you can win part of the state.
Even if Jones loses on Nov. 3, 2020, he will still have done some positive by forcing his Republican opponent to pledge action on the bridge; and the people of Mobile and Baldwin counties will be in a better place for it.
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