Alabama the Blue? Republicans face tight race in December

By David Malcolm

The state of Alabama, the ‘Heart of Dixie’ has a long history as the 22nd state. It is perhaps most famously recognized as one of the main battlegrounds for the Civil Rights Movement, where Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks made their own stands against the prevalent racism of America at the time. Much like its neighbors in the Deep South, it is generally considered to be a safe seat for Republicans to hold and Trump won the state by over 30% in the election last year.

At the moment, Alabama is hoping to choose a new state senator after Jeff Sessions vacated the seat to become the attorney general. However, a new poll puts Democrat challenger Doug Jones at near equal pegging as his two main rivals in the Republican Party. The former Supreme Court Judge for Alabama, Roy Moore has a 19-point lead over the current incumbent Luther Strange, the Republican senator but both of them lead over Jones by only a few points. Even more ominous is the revelation that a quarter of Moore’s primary voters might vote for the Democrat rather than Strange. However, if Moore wins the primary, 31 percent of Strange’s primary voters will vote blue.

All of this is deeply troubling news for the GOP. Doug Jones’ strong showing is even more surprising since he was seen as fighting a lost cause in fighting for the seat, but it remains to be seen if this new poll is a flash in the pan or the first sign of a political shift. It is bad enough for the GOP that Luther Strange, endorsed by the party and Donald Trump himself, is trailing behind Roy Moore,  a conservative firebrand and controversial figure who is a deeply unsettling person for the GOP establishment to deal with. In fact, Moore himself is a symbol of the impact of Donald Trump. Controversial, anti-establishment, conservative firebrand, the only surprise is that Trump didn’t endorse him rather than Strange.

Stealing Jeff Sessions’ former seat in a safe Republican area will certainly cheer up Democrats no end and get them looking for significant victories elsewhere. Even if they fail to take the seat, the polls indicate that it will be a tight race either way and might force the Republicans to spend critical funds on a safe seat. If the Democrats take it in December, it’ll be a much-needed morale boost and proof that the country is tired of Trump. It makes their prospect for 2018 much brighter while Jones’ victory will swing the delicate balance of the Senate towards the Democrats, useful for Trump if he wants to make more deals.

On the Republican side, all eyes will be on September 26th when Moore and Strange face each other in the runoff with the winner facing Doug Jones for the seat. If the new poll is correct, it really doesn’t matter but some in the GOP might hope that either candidate might still hold the seat fairly comfortably. It’s still a long road to December 26th, but anger is growing against the GOP. Congress is struggling to make any major legislative achievements and the upcoming tax reform bill is set to drive an even bigger wedge in the Republican Party.

In fact, the bruising primary campaign has only served to highlight the major division within the Party itself, the Never-Trumpers and the Always-Trumpers. Donald Trump’s election as President has split the Party, perhaps fatally, but the recent scandals, the lack of major legislative victories and the personality of the President himself has brought the matter to a head. Republican politicians can no longer avoid the fact that they are no longer united and that their very own leader is tearing them apart.

It is too early to speculate whether the Republicans will lose the seat and it is almost useless to predict the result after the last few years of upsets and surprises. All the same, it is worth watching Alabama’s election very carefully. If future polls indicate similar results, then the GOP has a problem,  a problem of their own making.

I'm a historian based in the UK who likes jumping from one thought to next. I love to learn new things and explore other ideas.

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