Doug Jones’ win last December has given national Democrats something to look forward to in the upcoming 2018 midterms. If a Dem can win in Alabama, think what that might mean for the rest of the country!
That Democratic optimism overlooks some key factors.
Consider in November 2016, there were many Republicans in Alabama who preferred another option on the ballot besides Donald Trump.
Nonetheless, when they went to vote, they held their noses and cast ballots for Trump.
They would have preferred Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio or Ben Carson. But given the choices were Trump or Hillary Clinton, they went with what they thought was the least-bad option.
It is also likely that some of those same voters against their better judgment cast a ballot for Roy Moore last December.
What do you suppose the mood of those voters headed into this election cycle is like? Although they may like what Trump has done in his first year as president, some of Trump’s accomplishments deviate from what most consider to be the traditional model of conservative Republican governance.
Earlier this month, nearly the entire Alabama congressional delegation — with the exception of Reps. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) and Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) — voted for $300 billion in new spending to keep the government open.
Brooks embraced his “no” vote. He made national headlines by calling it a “debt junkie’s dream.” Palmer was not quite as enthusiastic, explaining he was disappointed to be forced to vote against funding for the military.
Both of those members were fulfilling campaign pledges to get a handle on federal spending in ways to address the national debt. And to be fair, the other Republican members of Congress from Alabama have, at times, voted against raising the debt, even in the Trump era, but not this time.
In Alabama, the buyers’ remorse vote against Trump and the current GOP status quo might not come in the form of voting for a Democrat, but voting against the incumbent in this June’s Republican primary.
The coalition that gave Donald Trump overwhelming victories in the 2016 Alabama Republican presidential primary and the general election will not be as fired up as it was back then.
For the most part, when bucking conservative orthodoxy, Alabama Republicans have avoided punishment. Richard Shelby, Spencer Bachus, Jo Bonner and Terry Everett feasted off of pork-barrel spending during their entire tenures. Their reward was multiple terms.
For Alabamians, the name of the game then was bringing home the bacon. What if, given we’re in a post-presidential election midterm cycle, it is different?
Traditionally, the party that attains power in the executive branch suffers in the following midterm election. The numbers bear this out. In midterms since 1862, the president’s party has averaged losses of about 32 seats in the House and more than two seats in the Senate.
There is a lot of historical headwind facing Trump and by association GOP officeholders. This could come in the form of a revolt within the party.
The most obvious evidence of this is in Alabama’s second congressional district, a seat currently held by Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery). This summer, she will have four opponents in the primary.
In the past, she has shown an ability to dispense with those threats for her party’s nod in multiple election cycles. Yet she remains a target, and with the mildest whiff of dissatisfaction she could be more vulnerable this go-around.
Even if Roby prevails, as well as Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville), who also faces a primary opponent, there will still be resources used to defend their turf, which might be needed in a tight general election in November.
It was not that long ago that a Democrat won in Alabama’s second congressional district. Former Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, who is one of Roby’s GOP primary opponents, held that seat as a Democrat for one term.
It was almost a perfect storm for Bright to have pulled off that unlikely victory in 2008. Jay Love, the GOP candidate that year, had a tough primary race against Harri Anne Smith, who would later endorse Bright.
Bright also had the benefit of running as a Democrat down ballot from Barack Obama, who was running to be America’s first African-American president. That resulted in a high turnout of Democratic voters.
While it took those circumstances, it demonstrated that a Democrat could pull off a win. If Republicans have learned anything from last December, it is to not take Alabama voters for granted.
There are many reasons for Republicans to be dissatisfied. Trump’s agenda has stalled in Congress, and while it may not be the fault of those in the House, there is political hay to be made. One of the things Roy Moore, Luther Strange and Mo Brooks beat each other up over was ending the 60-vote filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate to move things through Congress.
Whatever the reason for intraparty GOP frustration, it fuels an anti-incumbent fervor. In a state where Republicans still are the odds-on favorites in most major campaigns, all the action then goes to the primary.
To incumbent Alabama Republicans running for re-election in contested primaries, from the governor’s mansion all the way down to county constable: Do not take anything for granted.