What Can Democrats Learn From Alabama’s Doug Jones?

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  • 30 November 2017

In ordinary circumstances, Doug Jones would already be preparing to move to Washington DC. The former prosecutor famous for convicting KKK members for a church bombing is up against gay bashing, God and gun lovin’, twice kicked out of elected office, Judge Roy Moore. A man who has eight accusers of sexual assault, all of whom were underage at the time of the allegations.

Yet, if one looks at all the recent polls, they show a tight race. If the two candidates aren’t neck and neck, one or the other has the slenderest of leads. Many US commentators across the media even expect Moore to win.

Of course, Alabama is a deep red state, and Moore is the most right wing candidate to ever run on the GOP platform. Then again, Missouri was deep red when Claire McCaskill beat Todd Akin in 2012, after his ‘legitimate rape’ comment. So was Indiana, when Joe Donnelly snuck in that same year. In fact, there are a handful of other deep red states with Democrat senators, namely Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia.

Although a Democrat has not won statewide in Alabama for some twenty years, it isn’t the hardest thing to imagine this December. This is the easiest opportunity Democrats have had in a long time and could possibly wish to have.

Doug Jones represents a breed of American politician the Democrats need more of; red state Democrats. Simply put, they won’t win back either house of congress without them. In the long term, it saves their image from being the party of ‘coastal liberal elites’, which is precisely the problem.

Jones is a proud gun owner and hunter. He is running on a programme of strengthening the military and national defense. While an Obamacare supporter, he recently told Chuck Todd of MSNBC that he is ‘not there yet’ on single payer healthcare. He repeats the phrase ‘kitchen table issues’ to reporters at any chance he gets. Most importantly, however, he has almost entirely distanced himself from the Democrat Party in Washington.

Other than former Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. John Lewis, Jones has had no other high profile visitors on the campaign trail; it isn’t hard to see why. To win, he needs to form an odd coalition of voters to turn up and vote for him. Firstly, the African American base, where his background, opponent and John Lewis do him immense favours. However, he also needs suburban whites who voted for Trump but simply cannot stomach Moore. Enter Joe Biden.

This is particular to his state, but not uncommon for other red state Democrats. All of whom currently in the Senate (except McCaskill) distanced themselves from the Democrat Party in order to win. Instead of usual Democrat talking points, they preached about bi-partisanship, stressed their ‘local roots’ and ran as ‘local issue candidates’.

Beto O’Rourke who is challenging Ted Cruz in Texas next year is doing the same thing and faces a similar problem. Besides the Latino vote, he also needs suburban whites and Republicans fed up of Cruz to tick the box marked ‘Democrat’. O’Rourke has been to parts of Texas where no candidate for Senate has campaigned in for over forty years. He is refusing any PAC money, talks about bi-partisanship and claims that Texans deserve better than someone who ‘got elected [and] then went straight to Iowa’.

Here is the catch, though. O’Rourke is openly liberal. While more moderate, Jones is still very much in line with the Democrat platform. He is pro-choice, which has put off some key swing voters he desperately needs. Many Alabamians cannot conceive of voting for a Democrat, however impressive Jones’ record is.

That is why on the campaign trail Jones has been focusing solely on current issues rather than ideological ones. Attack ads can speak for themselves, but as Moore and the current president show, being scandal ridden isn’t enough of a disqualifier in 2017. Ironic though it may seem, ‘kitchen table’ issues are realistically the only thing Jones can do to help himself.

Jones and his campaign show that the Democrat’s brand needs some serious detoxification. This must begin in red states if Democrats are to win back any branches of government. To return to the point I began this piece with; Alabama’s special election should have been won weeks ago.

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