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Thank Sen. Shelby and Charles Barkley for saving Alabama

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Two people should be thanked for the unexpected upset victory of Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama.

The first and foremost is the senior U.S. senator from Alabama, Republican Richard Shelby.

{mosads}Shelby, a former Democrat who decades ago changed parties, could not have made it more clear. “I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore. I didn’t vote for Roy Moore. But I wrote in a distinguished Republican name. And I think a lot of people could do that.”


This statement soars in its direct, frontal assault on the legitimacy of Roy Moore’s candidacy. But, even better, it provided a prescription for action.

Shelby didn’t play the usual politician’s game of murky ambiguity. He didn’t try to have it both ways.

No, you knew exactly what he thought. There was no doubt. No doubt at all.

I particularly admire the suggested alternative mode.

By saying that he “wrote in a distinguished Republican name,” he firmly gave the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” to act in an untraditional manner.

Many Alabamians who were rock-ribbed Republicans and would never allow themselves to vote for a Democrat took Shelby’s advice and followed his example.

The proof is in the numbers.

Jones won by a margin of a little more than 21,000 votes. The write-in vote was 22,819 (1.7 percent).

And even a much greater number of Republicans decided that Moore was so repugnant and odious that they voted against him by not voting at all. They stayed home. They refused to participate.

Make no mistake. You can’t get more Republican than Alabama. The last time they elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate was 1992 (Richard Shelby, who subsequently became a Republican).

For all practical purposes, there is no Democratic Party in Alabama. No organized party infrastructure.

Enough Republicans who believe in their party and what it stands for decided that Roy Moore was not a Republican they could countenance.

Shelby’s seminal statement said it all to these people: “The state of Alabama deserves better.”

The other individual who deserves a great deal of gratitude is a native Alabamian who is a TV celebrity and a legendary basketball star. He went to Auburn and then to the NBA and played for the USA in the Olympics and led them to a gold medal.

Charles Barkley couldn’t stay out of this game.

He campaigned for and with Doug Jones. But it was what he so bluntly said which I believe went to the core of many of the state’s residents: “We’ve got to stop looking like idiots.”

And he went on — for Alabamians, it’s time “to draw a line in the sand.”

To voters who were white, this African American was not some Yankee elite. No, far from it. He grew up in the state and went to college in the state. He was one of them.

To African Americans that were absolutely essential to Jones’ victory, this emphatic characterization said to them, “You are an idiot if you don’t vote.” And they did vote, in record numbers.

Shelby and Barkley, an unlikely duo, made a powerful case against Roy Moore.

It’s rare when just words can move people to act. Usually, party loyalty and ideological sentiment are the deciding elements.

But Tuesday, in the heart of Dixie, in the Deep South, there were enough people who listened and followed Shelby and Barkley. They made the difference.

They decided to take a stand. They voted for Doug Jones, who showed courage and conviction, and voted against a man who they knew in their heart of hearts they could never be proud of.

This piece has been updated.

Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics. He previously was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington’s NPR affiliate, and for WTOP-FM, Washington’s all-news radio station. He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.

Tags Alabama Senate special election Charles Barkley Doug Jones Mark Plotkin Richard Shelby Richard Shelby Roy Moore Roy Moore

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