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Doug Jones victory could upend GOP agenda in 2018

The possible election of Doug Jones, a Democrat, in deep-red Alabama would alter the balance of power in the Senate and could dramatically change the GOP’s agenda in 2018.

A Jones win would put more pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) to work with Democrats. Most significantly, it could scuttle efforts to replace ObamaCare and reform entitlement programs — a top priority for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRepublicans are avoiding gun talks as election looms The Hill's 12:30 Report Flake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan MORE (R-Wis.) in 2018.

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If the Senate Republican majority shrinks by one seat — giving them a razor thin 51-49 majority — it will give more leverage to GOP moderates such as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand FCC to officially rescind net neutrality rules on Thursday MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe siren of Baton Rouge Interior plan to use drilling funds for new projects met with skepticism The 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework MORE (Alaska), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (Ariz.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March Outgoing GOP rep: Republican Party 'heading into trouble' in election MORE (Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Drama surrounding Shulkin — what is the future of VA health care? Blackburn pushes back on potential Corker bid: 'I'm going to win' MORE (Tenn.).

But it will also empower maverick conservatives such as Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonTrump spars with GOP lawmakers on steel tariffs Overnight Regulation: Trump unveils budget | Sharp cuts proposed for EPA, HHS | Trump aims to speed environmental reviews | Officials propose repealing most of methane leak rule Trump budget seeks savings through ObamaCare repeal MORE (R-Wis.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDem wins Kentucky state House seat in district Trump won by 49 points GOP's tax reform bait-and-switch will widen inequality Pentagon budget euphoria could be short-lived MORE (R-Ky.), who have threatened at times this year to derail the GOP agenda to win concessions.

In other words, a Jones win will make McConnell’s job a lot harder if he sticks to his strategy of passing major bills with party-line Republican support.

Republicans had vowed to return to the health-care debate and legislation sponsored by Sens. Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyTo lower prescription drug prices, fix existing drug discount programs Kimmel writer tweets amount NRA has given lawmakers in response to shooting prayers Overnight Regulation: Trump unveils budget | Sharp cuts proposed for EPA, HHS | Trump aims to speed environmental reviews | Officials propose repealing most of methane leak rule MORE (R-La.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (R-S.C.) to largely replace ObamaCare with block grants to states.

However, a Jones win would likely snuff that plan out completely. Jones has come out against Republican plans to replace ObamaCare.

A Fox News poll released Monday showed Jones leading Republican candidate Roy Moore, who faces multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, by 10 points. Other polls have shown Moore ahead.

“It gives more leverage to your outlying members like Collins and Corker if you continue to run the Senate like you have so far, where everything is negotiated out of the public ... put on the floor and pushed through,” said James Wallner, a former longtime Senate Republican aide.

“If the majority shrinks by one, you only need two people to defeat major legislation under reconciliation,” he added, referring to the budget process Republicans used to try to pass health-care reform with 51 votes this year.

Wallner said what he sees as the slim chances of repealing and replacing ObamaCare become even more unlikely.

He said if Republican voters let Jones win in Alabama, it will signal that conservatives are making their peace with the idea of not repealing ObamaCare, and “then you can have a negotiation with these Democrats and moderate Republicans” on how to reform health care.

Republican leaders such as Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (R-Texas) said in September that if Republicans couldn’t muster 51 votes to repeal ObamaCare they would tackle health care on a bipartisan basis.

McConnell and President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE have already moved in that direction by promising Collins that they will enact legislation negotiated with Democratic Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn Murray30 million people will experience eating disorders — the CDC needs to help Mulvaney remarks on Trump budget plan spark confusion Overnight Finance: Mulvaney sparks confusion with budget remarks | Trump spars with lawmakers on tariffs | Treasury looks to kill 300 tax regs | Intel chief's warning on debt MORE (Wash.) to shore up the individual health-care markets by the end of the year.

If the Republican majority shrinks by one, Collins “is really holding the cards there,” said Bill Hoagland, another former senior Senate GOP aide, referring to the health-care debate.

“If a red state, a Republican state, one that Trump won overwhelmingly, if that sends a Democrat to the Senate, I think that makes a big difference,” he added.

“It would highlight the importance of working with thoughtful conservatives such as the McCains and the Flakes,” said Sarah Chamberlain, the president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group of 70 members of Congress who describe themselves as the “governing wing of the Republican Party.”

McCain helped kill the Senate health-care bill earlier this year, and Flake, a deficit hawk, almost pressured Republican leaders to shrink the size of the tax-cut package by $350 billion to $400 billion.

After the months of negotiation to repeal and replace ObamaCare with a simple majority vote in the Senate failed this summer, trying to do so again in an election year with a smaller GOP majority strikes many Republicans as a fool’s errand.

The GOP tax bill, which eked its way through the Senate this month with 51 votes, likely won’t be affected by a Jones win as leaders hope to have the legislation on Trump’s desk before the Alabama race is certified and the winner seated.

It has taken two to three weeks to certify and seat the winners of other recent special elections, such as Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Senate rejects centrist immigration bill after Trump veto threat Sen. Gillibrand, eyeing 2020 bid, rankles some Democrats MORE (D-N.J.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyRegulators seek to remove barriers to electric grid storage Markey, Paul want to know if new rules are helping opioid treatment Oil spill tax on oil companies reinstated as part of budget deal MORE (D-Mass.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsAfter Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Sunday shows preview: Russian charges, Florida shooting dominate coverage MORE (D-Del.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Toomey to introduce bill broadening background checks for firearms Scott Walker backs West Virginia attorney general in GOP Senate primary MORE (D-W.Va.).

Empowered moderates, who could see their leverage increase even more, say GOP leaders have already signaled that infrastructure investment, a more bipartisan project, is next on the 2018 agenda, ahead of health care.

Collins told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast this month that infrastructure is the next major order of business in the Senate.

There was talk among Republicans earlier this year about using reconciliation to unwind the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, but that has also given way to a more bipartisan approach.

The Senate Banking Committee last week voted to advance legislation to roll back federal regulations on small banks. Four Democrats — including three in tough races next year, Sens. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDemocrats now attack internet rules they once embraced Dem group launches M ad buy to boost vulnerable senators Senate rejects Trump immigration plan MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampSenate rejects Trump immigration plan Cramer to announce North Dakota Senate run on Friday Senate Democrats not sold on bipartisan immigration deal MORE (N.D.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterWith vote against Brownback, Democrats abandon religious freedom Democrat Manchin: Pence attacks prove ‘they don't want bipartisanship’ in Trump admin Tester invited the Border Patrol Union’s president to the State of the Union. What does that say to Dreamers?   MORE (Mont.) — voted for the measure.

In some ways, a Jones victory would come almost as a relief to Senate Republican leaders, who have come under enormous pressure from the president and House Republicans to keep their diverse caucus unified.

If Democrats win the Alabama seat, expectations will be lower and McConnell will have a good excuse to work with Democrats on infrastructure, immigration reform and even banking deregulation.

It would also spare Republicans from having to undergo an excruciating deliberation over whether to expel Moore, who has received Trump’s endorsement and has run expressly against the GOP establishment in Washington.

It would save them from the Democratic plan to use Moore to portray the Republican Party as out of touch with the concerns of women.

A new Gallup poll shows the percentage of Americans who self-identify as Republican has dropped from 42 percent to 37 percent, a decline driven by white women walking away from the party.

“Roy Moore will be the gift that keeps on giving for Democrats. It will define the 2018 election,” Graham told CNN in an interview Monday.

Hoagland said if Moore wins, “it would be as damaging to Republicans as if the Democrat wins.”