Sunday Political Brunch: The Roy Moore Fallout—December 17, 2017
Sunday, December 17, 2017
“The Shelby Factor” – I was a reporter in Alabama in the late 80s and early 90s, and covered Senator Richard Shelby (R) Alabama, when he was still a Democrat. And, I was there in Washington, DC to cover him switching to the Republican Party in 1994. His most interesting twist came right after the 1994 midterm elections where Republicans took control of both chambers of Congress. He switched parties- in part – after a slight in 1993 when Shelby received only one ticket to a White House event honoring his University of Alabama football team for winning the national championship. He and President Clinton became bitter enemies. Ouch!
“The Polling” – As I was after the 2016 Presidential campaign, I am again deeply concerned about the political polling taking place in America. I use polling as an instructive tool whereas I feel a lot of my competitors in the media use polling as a crutch. It’s important to put it in perspective: it’s at best a “guestimate” - a lone snap-shot in time. It’s not a predictor of anything; it’s more reflective. The disparities are stark and concerning. On Monday, a Fox News poll had Doug Jones leading by 10 points; while an Emerson College poll had Roy Moore up by nine points; and a Monmouth University polls had the race dead-even at 46 percent apiece (a pretty good reflection of the outcome). So, why were the polls “all over the map?”
“Bad Optics” – I’ve been covering state, local, and national politics for forty years now. When I see a bad image, I call it out. No one will ever forget 1988 Presidential nominee, Gov. Michael Dukakis, driving an Army tank and looking like Snoopy at the helm. It was a disaster. This past week – on the eve of a critical Senate election – Roy Moore (who despises the mainstream media) chose instead to be interviewed by a 12-year-old child-reporter by the name of Millie March. Who thought this was a good idea? Moore was already facing accusations of sexual improprieties with 14 and 16 years old young ladies – and I grant that those accusations go back forty years -- and were not proven. But what campaign manager would think seating the candidate with a 12-year-old girl was good optics? It was maybe the worst political strategy I’ve seen in my 40 years. Wow!
“NOT a Precursor of 2018” – Ever since Donald Trump was elected President, there have been nine special elections across the United States. By many in the media, the races were billed (wrongly) as a referendum on the Trump presidency. Remember legendary House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s rule, “All politics is local.” These were not national races in most regards, but local. So far Republicans have won five House seats they previously held, and Democrats won one House seat they already held. Democrats won two Governorships (one had been Republican) for a net gain of one. Democrats have also won a U.S. Senate seat for a net gain for one. The count so far is Republicans 5; Democrats 4. Despite the enthusiasm in Alabama Tuesday, Democrats face a tough road ahead.
“Why Doug Jones Won?” – First, he was a good, credible candidate for the Democrats in the Deep South – an area where they’ve struggled to field quality candidates for three decades. He’s a former U.S. Attorney with some high-profile prosecutions in major cases. Three other U.S. Attorneys I know, have parlayed that kind of resume into higher office: Chris Christie, Jeff Session, and Rudy Giuliani, to name a few. Jones had the chops. Plus, he was facing a very polarizing Republican, who’d twice been elected to the Alabama Supreme Court, only to be twice-removed. In this race, Moore was his own worst enemy. I say that because this was a race unique to Alabama. The oddity of circumstances is in no way is a predictor of what happens nationwide in 2018. That said, the Democratic Party - and in particular, the NAACP - ran a very effective "get out the vote" campaign that could be adopted elsewhere.
“The ‘Trump Factor’ or, Non-Factor?” – President Trump backed appointed Senator Luther Strange, (R) Alabama in the race, in the primary. Strange lost. Trump then – at the 11th hour this past week – endorsed Roy Moore - who ultimately lost. This is a President with the highest negative ratings we’ve ever seen. He may volunteer to campaign for lot of House and Senate candidates in 2018, only to be given a polite, “No thanks!” He is the Republican lightning rod in 2018, and a lot of incumbent GOP lawmakers may not want to be standing anywhere near him.
“The Immediate Impact” –Senator Luther Strange (R) Alabama will remain in place until Doug Jones is sworn in, early in 2018. Senator Al Franken (D) Minnesota will also remain in place until he officially resigns. That keeps the Republican Senate majority at 52-48 for next week’s anticipated final vote on the tax reform bill. Yes, Democrats want the vote delayed until Jones in sworn in, (giving them better odds at winning), but that won’t happen.
“Why All of This Matters” – As mentioned in previous weeks Democrats are defending 23 U.S. Senate seats this year; Republicans only eight. Republicans hold 34 Governors seats; Democrats 15; and independents 1. Republicans control 32 state legislatures; Democrats 14; with four states in divided government. I think you know where I am going here. 2018 is a real uphill fight for Democrats. Yes, they may chip away at the margins, but any notions of overtaking these GOP advantages in any significant way is daunting. The real test may come in 2020, with a Presidential ticket leading the charges.
Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, author and analyst based in West Virginia.
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