High African-American voter turnout coupled with a deeply flawed Republican candidate flipped Alabama's senate seat for Democrat Doug Jones. But the win's significance shouldn't be overstated, writes DW's Michael Knigge.
Alabama is set to be represented in Congress by a Democratic senator for the first time in a quarter century. For one of the most reliable conservative states to flip from the Republican to the Democratic Party required nothing less than a perfect storm. While it is important to note that exit poll data from Tuesday's election in Alabama are preliminary and therefore still subject to change, some key factors contributing to what can be described as a severe blow to both the Republicans and President Donald Trump appear evident.
First, according to various exit polls African-American turnout in Alabama was phenomenal. African-Americans went to the polls in droves and almost unanimously (96 percent) voted for Democratic candidate Doug Jones. In fact, African-American support for Jones appears to be pretty much on par with their turnout for Barack Obama in 2008 and much stronger than their backing of Hillary Clinton in last year's presidential race.
This could have to do with the fact that the NAACP and the Democratic Party really put in a strong effort to get African-Americans out to vote. Media reports about attempts to suppress minority voters in Alabama, which has strong voter identification laws, may have also played a role in increasing turnout.
Second, among white voters who overwhelmingly vote Republican in Alabama, there was comparatively low support for the party's embattled candidate Roy Moore. To be sure, whites largely (almost 70 percent) backed Moore according to exit polls, but the margins were significantly lower than those for Trump last year.
Third, Doug Jones was not only a credible candidate, but was widely seen to have run a very solid race in a political environment that is usually deeply hostile to Democrats. But equally, if not even more importantly, Roy Moore, an accused child molester and a political and religious extremist, did not garner enough support to overcome a surge of African-American votes and win the vacant Senate seat previously held by the arch-conservative Jeff Sessions.
That Trump and the Republicans even dared to back a candidate like Moore highlights the utter moral depravity of what is commonly referred to as the Grand Old Party. Fortunately, their gamble backfired and Moore will not be sworn in as a US senator. Instead, in what can be called an act of poetic justice, the state of Alabama will be represented in Washington by Doug Jones, who once prosecuted Ku Klux Klan members for a bombing that killed four African-American girls.
While this Democratic win in Alabama is significant, it is vital not to overstate its importance, because it took a perfect storm to eek out a win of less than 2 percentage points. Remember, Trump won the state by a 28 percent-margin over Hillary Clinton last year. If Republicans had managed to nominate any other candidate than the doomed Moore, they probably would have managed to hold on to the seat.
That is not to say, that Democrats — facing a president who beyond his hardcore base is unpopular among large segments of society — don't stand a chance to win in other Republican-leaning states or districts. But it does mean that to not only be competitive, but actually try to win some of them may require some additional perfect storms.