Dec. 15, 2017 — Predictably, Democrats and media commentators are promoting the premise that Doug Jones’ victory in Tuesday’s Alabama special Senate election is another sign that a Democratic wave is building to transform the minority party into one that wins control of at least one congressional chamber next year. But the actual numbers do not provide evidence for such an analysis.
In actuality, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) may have succinctly and correctly described what happened in the Alabama election, which caused Republicans to lose one of their safest seats in the nation. During an interview with NBC News, Sen. Johnson simply said, “Alabamians didn’t want somebody who dated 14-year-old girls.”
Looking at the actual figures, there is more supporting data for the supposition that Jones’ win is more likely due to Republican defections from former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, rather than a massive increase in Democratic turnout. While the Alabama special did feature a higher turnout than the last midterm election (2014), we also saw this phenomenon occur in two earlier special elections: the Montana at-large and GA-6 congressional contests. Republicans won both of those votes, proving that the GOP base was sufficiently energized in those two places to withstand increased Democratic turnout. But, Alabama doesn’t fit that same model either in the mode of Republican loyalty or an energized Democratic base.
In 2008, physician Parker Griffith won Alabama’s 5th Congressional District race replacing veteran Rep. Bud Cramer (D), who retired after serving nine terms in office. Parker, at the time a state senator, won election to the US House as a Democrat (51-48 percent over Republican businessman Wayne Parker), but switched parties after about a year in office citing frustration with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team.
After weathering a storm of GOP attack ads in the ’08 general election, Mr. Griffith continued to absorb political punishment even after joining his new party. Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks challenged him for the Republican nomination and ended the race with a stunning 50-33 percent victory in a three-way campaign, securing an outright majority to avoid even a run-off election. Last Friday, Mr. Griffith surprised everyone by again filing for the seat, seeking a Republican primary re-match with Rep. Brooks.
The most important election for any political switcher is the first nomination vote in the new party. Griffith did not establish a proper local Republican base in order to secure a political foothold in his new party despite major national support. Now, with no money in his campaign account, two months in which to campaign, and both the national and local GOP establishment firmly backing incumbent Brooks, it’s hard to comprehend what path to victory Griffith sees in 2012. It is probable that Mr. Brooks’ re-nomination percentage will be even higher than when he unseated incumbent Griffith just two years ago.