This was a lousy year for conventional wisdom in Alabama politics. A lot of what we thought we knew based on historical trends from past elections, polling and just a general feel for the community would not have allowed for the prediction of “Senator-elect Doug Jones.”
Some of what occurred in Alabama’s special election earlier this month happened as it was supposed to happen. Alabama’s Black Belt was solidly Democrat and went for Jones. Other rural areas in the state were solidly Republican and went for Roy Moore.
Most people expected Mobile County to turn out the way it did — a mild, 56-42 percent loss for Moore. Jefferson County (Birmingham) was going to be tough for Republicans as well, given it was Jones’ home turf and not a place where Moore had ever performed well.
What couldn’t have been foreseen was the blowout loss in Montgomery County, going nearly 3-to-1 for Jones, and a 16-point loss in Madison County (Huntsville).
Throw in a couple of outcomes that were abnormalities — Lee County (Auburn) and Tuscaloosa County, the homes of Alabama’s two major universities and going for Donald Trump last election by huge margins, went for the Democrat.
An analysis of the precinct-by-precinct results in areas where the voting public is younger (i.e., trendy neighborhoods and college towns) suggests people are more open to the possibility of voting Democrat. This stands in contrast to areas where the population density is similar, but older.
Everyone has a theory about why Jones won. Some say it was a principled stand against pedophilia, hate and theocracy. Some argue it was a matter of policy. Others have suggested it was the natural pushback against the Republican president.
What if it’s something more superficial and trivial? What if the Democratic candidate Doug Jones in this election cycle was just “cooler” than Roy Moore?
Frankly, Roy Moore rates somewhere on the “cool” scale for millennials among fanny packs, Axe body spray and shingles.
What if Moore’s uncool-ness stench swayed Alabama’s younger voters (dare I say millennials)? That could be a problem Republicans will have to overcome in future election cycles.
This trend probably won’t mean Alabama will be turning into a blue state. But it could tarnish its “ruby red” status. The once-dormant Democratic Party in Alabama could once again be a factor in places beyond its usual strongholds of the Black Belt and the inner cities. That would be a thorn in the side for GOP’ers.
A decade earlier, a white Democrat in Alabama was either a silver-ponytailed relic from the 1960s or someone who had given up their materialistic life to live in a commune and be part of an art colony.
In 2017, what if the average person in their 20s — perhaps the type who Snapchats and stays up until midnight to download the latest Drake track — has determined they will be voting Democrat because it is the “cool” thing to do?
There is a goofy online video that has Doug Jones’ face superimposed over 2013 Auburn Iron Bowl hero Chris Davis running back the “Kick Six” touchdown. That imagery reinforces what we all kind of already know: that Doug Jones pulled off the unlikeliest of upsets in Alabama political history on a play with a low-percentage success rate.
The more appropriate Iron Bowl metaphor might be “Bo over the Top” in the 1982 game at Birmingham’s Legion Field. Auburn freshman running back Bo Jackson score the go-ahead touchdown against Alabama that resulted in a win and ended a 10-year drought for the Tigers.
Jackson ended up having a 2-2 record in games against Alabama during his career at Auburn, a relatively unremarkable tally against the in-state rival.
However, Jackson’s immortality in Auburn lore is that he scored the touchdown that changed the dynamic of Auburn and Alabama football in the state for decades. Auburn was no longer an afterthought. Although the Crimson Tide still owned the state of Alabama, Auburn became a formidable annual opponent not only in the Iron Bowl but on the cutthroat battlefield of recruiting.
After the election, one of AL.com’s token “conservatives” argued this should be a wake-up call for Republicans. They needed to listen to their younger members and embrace feel-good platitudes about the state of Alabama.
That’s not going to work. The Alabama Republican Party doesn’t need to be the equivalent of the Greater Birmingham Young Republicans — a combination of ladder-climbing bros and those who want to transform the party into one that embraces same-sex marriage and thinks Net Neutrality is one of the top five most pressing issues of the day.
Sorry, guys. The Netflix binge-watching, sour beer connoisseur wannabe bourgeoisie are not the future of the GOP in Alabama.
The Republican Party in Alabama is going to need better branding. Yes, part of that is not nominating Roy Moore ever again as a standard-bearer. However, it needs to be more representative of the vibe in the state. Even in 2018, the identity of Alabamians will still line up closer to Wal-Mart than Starbucks.
The Democratic Party has a reputation for being the party of feelings, safe spaces, latte-sipping pajama boys and feline hoarders. The Grand Old Party in this state should stand in contrast to that. You vote Republican to keep Christ in Christmas, to support concealed-carry firearms or just because you have a desire to see an end to the womb-to-tomb, cradle-to-grave nanny state.
If the Democratic Party becomes the political apparatus of “cool,” some of those objectives go away. Remember when Barack Obama was cool? And Bill Clinton was cool. After all, he played the saxophone on “The Arsenio Hall Show”!
The GOP brand needs to be something that resembles the spirits of John Wayne, Winston Churchill and Rocky Balboa. It may upset the anti-toxic masculinity crowd, but that’s how you win Alabama. The template, however, does not include being a blowhard demagogue who will recite memorized Bible verses and Founding Father quotes.
Alabama Republicans are at a crossroads. Will the 2017 special election be just a freak occurrence, a blip on the radar — or will it be the “Bo over the Top” moment that alters the political landscape for the next three decades?