Democratic and Republican pundits wasted no time spinning the results of Alabama’s special election, but do they have the facts right? According to GOP talking heads, Moore’s defeat was a regrettable convergence of circumstances which will have zero impact on future races. But according to pundits representing the political left, it’s a referendum on the Republican Party. A sure sign of things to come.
Both are wrong.
Take away the political affiliations of Moore and Jones and it’s plain to see what happened.
Say you didn’t know Moore was the Republican nominee and Jones the Democratic Party’s pick. Say the only thing you knew was one candidate was accused of child molestation while the other candidate wasn’t. Say powerful leaders in Washington claimed they had studied the allegations, found them to be credible, and were now looking into ways to stop the accused candidate from being admitted to the Senate.
The answer’s obvious. If you find the idea of electing an accused sexual predator objectionable (most do) you have one of 3 choices: a) vote for the candidate who is not accused, b) abstain from voting, or c) write in a candidate.
And that’s what happened in Alabama. All three.
Let’s start with those that abstained. According to the Washington Post, only 49 percent of Republicans who voted for Trump turned out for Moore — sending a clear message the majority of Republicans would prefer to stay home than cast a vote for a candidate accused of sexual misconduct. Contrast this to 92 percent of Clinton voters who turned out for Jones. In a state where 53 percent of voters identify themselves as Republicans, and only 35 percent Democrats, there’s no question as to whether a stronger Republican turnout could have made up the 21,000 votes Moore needed.
Second, let’s look at voters who chose the write-in option. When Jeff Sessions won the Senate race in 2008, write-ins represented approximately .12 percent of the total vote. In Tuesday’s special election that figure was 1.7 percent — a greater than 1,400 percent jump! Write-ins were also infrequent when Richard Shelby ran for re-election in 2016. That race yielded roughly 3,600 write-ins compared to 22,819 in the Moore-Jones contest.
Even more telling is the name voters recently wrote in. The most popular write-in candidate in the Alabama special election was an apolitical outsider: head football coach for the University of Alabama, Nick Saban. Throughout the Special Election, Saban wisely remained quiet about accusations levied against Moore, taking the same hands-off stance as Senate Majority Leader McConnell: “let the voters of Alabama decide.”
Lastly, let’s look at whether Republicans who objected to Moore crossed lines and voted for Jones. According to exit polls, somewhere around 8 percent did. A detailed county-by-county analysis reveals the swing toward Jones occurred where the majority of voters were both white and black. Analysts claiming that a stampede of black voters sent Jones over the finish line are misinformed. The real story in Alabama may be white women voters. More than double the number of white women who supported Obama in 2012 voted for Jones in 2017.
Given what we now know about those who abstained, chose to write-in a candidate, or crossed party lines to vote for Jones, what can we learn from the Democratic victory in Alabama? What impact will this election have on races down the road? What does it say about the American voter?
The first lesson is that the character of a candidate matters. If Republicans force voters to choose between an accused child molester and a Democratic candidate, Republican voters stay away. Choose your nominees carefully. And never double down on a losing hand.
Second, a dramatic rise in the number of write-in candidates reveals that more Alabama voters want an option that is a political moderate than ever before.
Third, Democrats now have a model that works.
To the extent Democrats frame every election as one where voters are choosing between a party that supports sexual offenders and one which takes a hard stand against them (a la Franken) they will be able to duplicate their success in Alabama — particularly among women voters. And if that model can be scaled up, Democrats may be able to convince enough Republicans to sit out the next national election.
On the other hand, if the GOP stops treating Alabama as a one-off, temporary set-back and starts putting forth candidates that inspire Republican voters to show up at the polls rather than put them in an untenable position, they may still hold on to their majority.
Rebecca D. Costa is an American sociobiologist, author, and host of the syndicated radio program "The Costa Report." She is an expert in the field of "fast adaptation." Costa’s first book, "The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse," was an international bestseller. Her follow-on book, titled "On the Verge," was released in 2017. Costa’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, SF Chronicle, The Guardian, etc. For more information, visit www.RebeccaCosta.com. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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