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 McConnellAn August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done After police rip Trump for Jan. 6, McCarthy again blames Pelosi The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands 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 RyanRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer Trump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP's future in a direct-mail piece 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 CollinsTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiBill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (Alaska), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain to produce 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE (Ariz.), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (Tenn.).

But it will also empower maverick conservatives such as Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa Sunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines MORE (R-Wis.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Only two people cited by TSA for mask violations have agreed to pay fine Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill 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 CassidyBill CassidyTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (R-La.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill 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 CornynSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Eight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division 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 TrumpMyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News Haaland, Native American leaders press for Indigenous land protections Simone Biles, Vince Lombardi and the courage to walk away MORE have already moved in that direction by promising Collins that they will enact legislation negotiated with Democratic Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats consider scaling back new funds to fight next pandemic Tech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up 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 BookerHuman rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer MORE (D-N.J.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyHuman rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Nearly 140 Democrats urge EPA to 'promptly' allow California to set its own vehicle pollution standards Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines MORE (D-Mass.), Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBottom line Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Key Biden ally OK with dropping transit from infrastructure package MORE (D-Del.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Democrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure 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 DonnellySupreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Republicans fret over divisive candidates Everybody wants Joe Manchin MORE (Ind.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampJoe Manchin's secret Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Effective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests MORE (N.D.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal 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.”