How Democrats turn an Alabama fluke into a ground game

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Electing a Democratic U.S. Senator from Alabama — is this extraordinary upset a fluke or does it light the way to Democratic victories in 2018 and 2020? Does Jones’ victory validate progressive Democrats, establishment Democrats or both factions in the party?

Doug Jones’s upset victory in Alabama proved the GOP and President Trump are on the ropes. But the Sanders and Clinton factions in the Democratic Party continue to punch each other out instead of going for the knockout against Republicans. Democrats need to spend more time planning for victory 2018 and 2020 and less time re-litigating the 2016 defeat.

{mosads}The exits from Alabama bear on the debate nationally between moderate and liberal Democrats. The argument among Democrats about whether to win over swing voters or to galvanize the base is artificial. There’s no easy answer. It’s not a matter of “either/or” That sounds difficult but nothing about successful campaigns is easy. If Doug Jones can do both in a state like Alabama, Democrats can do it nationally.


A close look at the results of the Battle in Bama supports the arguments made nationally by both progressive and moderate Democrats. To win in 2018 and in 2020, the two wings of the party need each other as much as Trump needed Vladimir Putin to win in 2016. 

You would think that a Democratic victory in a state like Alabama would be an arrow in the quiver of moderate Democrats but Jones did well with the voters that Democratic strategists consider to be the party base. So progressives can point to things from the Alabama Election Day Exit Poll to demonstrate that activating the base is vital to a victory.  

  • The most amazing thing about the data is that black women made up a sixth (17 percent) of the special electorate and just about all them voted (98 percent to 2 percent) for the Democratic victor. 
  • There were more voters who identified themselves as Republicans (43 percent) then there were voters who claimed to be Democrats (37 percent) But Democrats were more likely to support Jones (98 percent to 2 percent) than Republicans were to vote for Moore (91 percent to 8 percent).
  • Amazingly, the best, Trump could do in a bright red state in the Deep South was to manage a split in job approval (48 percent to 48 percent). But Jones did better with voters who disapproved of Trump (93 percent to 6 percent) than Moore did with voters who approved (89 percent to 9 percent). 

But before the progressives claim validation, moderate Democrats have things to crow about too. They also can point to factors in Alabama to hold up their part of the argument.

  • Moore did better with the large block (27 percent) of very conservative voters (88 percent to 10 percent) than Jones did with the small group (11 percent) of very liberal voters (84 percent to16 percent). But, one out of every three voters were self-identified moderates (31 percent) and Jones won their support by an astonishing three to one margin (74 percent to 25 percent). 
  • Voters who called themselves independents were a fifth of the electorate (21 percent). Jones beat Moore with these independent voters (51 percent to 43 percent).

Last week, a blue wave overwhelmed a crimson tide in Alabama. There is no doubt that the GOP candidate nominee Roy Moore was a flawed candidate. But Doug Jones’ epic win still has two takeaways for the Democratic Party. First, the party has a great opportunity to score big victories in 2018 and in 2020. And that the warring wings the party need each other to take flight and capitalize on the opportunities that Donald Trump has served up for the Democratic Party.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. (There is no relation to Trump adviser Stephen Bannon). He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at, a social media network for politics. Contact him at

Tags Brad Bannon Democratic Party Donald Trump Donald Trump Doug Jones Political parties in the United States Republican Party Roy Moore Roy Moore

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