Democrat Doug Jones pulled it off in Alabama on Tuesday night, becoming the first Democratic senator elected in the state in two decades. It’s an early referendum on President Donald Trump, and one that will make Republicans’ work in Congress harder.
Roy Moore, the gun-toting Christian conservative who earned Trump’s wary support and brought Steve Bannon out on the campaign trail, buckled under numerous accusations of sexual assault with teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
His loss changes the game for Republicans in control of government right now — and not in a good way.
Republicans will try to rush through tax reform
Republicans have a slimmer margin in the Senate to push through Trump’s agenda. The first thing on their list: tax reform.
The tax plan is in edits right now, undergoing changes to reconcile the differences between the version passed by the House and the one passed in the Senate. But when Jones takes office (which likely won’t happen before the new year), the congressional math will tilt in the Democrats’ favor. There are currently 52 Republican senators and 48 Democratic ones; when Jones takes his seat, there will be 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, meaning a one-vote advantage, or two if Vice President Mike Pence casts a tie-breaking vote.
That means that Republicans will rush to please the current naysayers in their party on tax reform, notably Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Meanwhile, some Democrats are already calling on Republicans to hold off voting until Jones takes his seat.
Does Bannon get sidelined?
The Breitbart editor and former adviser to President Donald Trump came out in force for Moore — and flopped. It’s the second time in as many months. Ed Gillespie, whom Bannon called a “Bush guy,” adopted Trumpian, Breitbart-inspired tactics late in his campaign. He also lost.
Bannon’s been on a losing streak, and Republicans are starting to take notice.
Even Trump, who supported Luther Strange, Moore’s opponent in the Republican primary, tweeted on Wednesday what was essentially a defense of his support for Strange. Bannon was staunchly in Moore’s camp, even during the primary.
Republicans avoid a gnarly ethics probe
Establishment Republicans in the Senate, many of whom called for Moore to drop out of the race (and then backtracked), are likely pleased with the outcome of Tuesday’s special election. They seemed sure that an ethics probe would be launched to look into the allegations of sexual assault brought forward in the Washington Post. Nine women have accused Moore of sexual misconduct.
"If he were to be elected, he would immediately have an ethics committee case, and the committee would take a look at the situation and give us advice," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, according to CNN.
With Jones’ win, some Republicans on the Hill are looking forward to avoiding more mudslinging and further allegations of impropriety of a public official.
The Trump bump just wasn’t there for Moore, even in a state Trump won handily
Trump won the state by 28 points in the 2016 presidential election. He held rallies right across the Florida border with Alabama, where he told voters to “Get out and vote for Roy Moore.”
It wasn’t enough. Even if Trump is still popular in Alabama, his support isn’t enough to elect an alleged child molester.
The Democratic base is fired up
Black Alabamians came back to the polls for a Democrat, and that's big. Ninety-eight percent of black women in Alabama voted for Jones, according to exit polls, and black voters made up 29 percent of the total vote, higher than their 27 percent share of the population in the state. That's a higher percentage than turned out for Barack Obama when 28 percent of the total Alabama vote was black.
The vote in affluent suburbs went blue Tuesday too. And turnout was high, especially for a special election, a sign that the Democratic base, fueled by anti-Trump sentiment, is ready to get out the vote.
That’s a good look for the Democrats, looking forward to 2018. Still, the Senate map in the midterm election looks pretty dire. Republicans are defending 9 seats; Democrats are defending 25. The Democrats still have a lot more to lose than Republicans. But, if Tuesday’s special election is any indication, they have the wind at their back and they’re poised to make a solid effort at keeping their foothold in the Senate.