The Ayatollah of Alabama.
Roy Moore believes that God’s law supersedes man’s law — and thus, that his personal interpretations of scripture can invalidate Supreme Court decisions. The Republican U.S. Senate candidate also believes that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress; that there are Christian communities in Illinois that have been forcibly subjected to the rule of Sharia law; and that gay sex should be a crime.
And yet, somehow, a Democrat is trailing Moore by a only 8 points in the race for Alabama’s open Senate seat!
On Tuesday, a poll from JMC Analytics found the former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones trailing Moore by that single-digit sum. Last week, a survey from Opinion Savvy showed Jones down by just 5 percentage points.
Now, an eight-point lead is nothing to sniff at — especially since Moore just survived a bruising primary fight, while Jones has yet to be subjected to a multimillion-dollar barrage of negative ads. But this is Alabama we’re talking about. Last year, the state’s conservative Republican senator Richard Shelby won reelection by 30 points. The last time Alabama sent a Democrat to the Senate, Shelby was still a Democrat (Shelby was the one they sent). Alabamians haven’t elected a non-Shelby, non-incumbent Democrat since 1978.
Democrats may never have a better chance of winning the Heart of Dixie than they will this December. And they have both a moral — and political — obligation to try and capitalize on that opportunity.
As of last week, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was divided on whether to sink significant resources into Jones’s campaign. But it shouldn’t be. Democrats have plenty of good reasons to compete in Alabama. To name just six:
1) Roy Moore’s election would be a blight on our republic, and an attack on the basic civic equality of LGBT and Muslim Americans. Trying to keep him out of Congress is a moral imperative.
2) The party isn’t in a position to ignore long-shot pick-up opportunities. The 2018 Senate battle map is brutally bad for Team Blue. Democrats have a good shot at capturing Republican-held seats in Nevada and Arizona —after that, their best bet looks like an open seat in Tennessee (in 2012, the winner of the Democratic senate primary in the Volunteer State campaigned on his opposition to “FEMA prison camps” and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s secret plan to “fulfill Hitler’s superman scenario.)
3) By the standards of statewide, Democratic candidates in the Deep South, Doug Jones is a superstar. As a U.S. Attorney, Jones won the long-belated conviction of two Klan members responsible for killing four girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, and led the prosecution of domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph. He has experience working as a Senate staffer, conventionally center-left issue positions, and doesn’t even think that FEMA runs prison camps.
4) As Vox’s Matt Yglesias has argued, making this into an even quasi-competitive race will force national Republicans to come to Moore’s aid — and thus, make the party’s craven support for putting a lawless, anti-Muslim theocrat into the Senate more visible to the national electorate.
5) Democrats aren’t operating with a fixed budget for campaigns over the next 13 months. Competitive off-year elections can motivate donations. Right now, there is a giant reservoir of progressive outrage over the state of the Trump presidency — and a desperate desire to do something to change our sorry political situation for the better. Ideally, something that doesn’t require too much personal risk or strenuous effort. Something like typing one’s credit-card number into a campaign’s donation page.
Roy Moore might well be an even more perfect embodiment of everything liberals loathe about their country than is Donald Trump. It shouldn’t be hard to get grassroots progressives to pony up for Jones’s campaign. You probably wouldn’t even have to lie about his chances. A pitch like, “If an anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-rule-of-law wing nut is going to get elected to the U.S. Senate, let’s at least make sure it isn’t a cakewalk” should be strong enough to open a few wallets.
6) The Democratic Party is never going to gain ground in hostile territory if it isn’t willing to invest in losing campaigns. Voting is a habit. In many red states, Democratic-leaning voters have fallen out of that habit, because their party doesn’t even run real candidates. The Moore race is an opportunity to mobilize left-leaning constituencies in Alabama, and get them into the habit of identifying with the Democratic Party and turning out on Election Day. Whether or not mobilizing such voters will be enough to elect Doug Jones in 2017, doing so will improve the electoral prospects of another Democratic Senate candidate, at some more auspicious future date.
And that date may prove closer than you’d think. The JMC Analytics poll actually suggests the atypical competitiveness of the special Alabama Senate race has less to do with Alabamians’ alienation from Moore than their surprising openness to the Democratic Party: While voters favored Moore by eight points over Jones, when asked whether they’d prefer to elect a generic Republican senator or a generic Democratic one, voters picked the GOP candidate by the mere four-point margin of 49 to 45 percent. (Apparently, if Republicans hadn’t nominated a strong candidate like Roy Moore, they’d really be in trouble.)
The DSCC should strike while the iron is hot — or, at least, while the Establishment GOP is discredited with its voters, and the insurgent right is discredited with everyone else. Let’s make Alabama Democratic again.