Above: No, Not that Doug Jones
I can’t as say I am usually in the habit of wholeheartedly endorsing James Carville’s strategy for the Democratic Party, but he is absolutely correct when he demands Democrats pour resources into the Alabama Senate race for Doug Jones to defeat the odious reincarnation of George Wallace named Roy Moore.
“Democrats have a good Southern candidate, and I’m going to help him,” said Mr. Carville, noting that he would contact party donors in New York and Los Angeles. “You have to. Because if you don’t, you’re never going to get candidates to run.”
And, Mr. Carville added, “if you can’t run against Roy Moore, then what kind of party you got?”
That’s right. By all accounts, Jones is an excellent candidate. Roy Moore is exceptionally odious. If you want to compete nationally, you have to go after this election. Now, its not that I don’t understand the reticence. First, Alabama is the single worst state in the South for Democrats, except perhaps Oklahoma, if you consider that the South. It lacks any real urban center, has a lower black population than Mississippi or Louisiana, and even lacks the recent history of electing Blue Dogs that might allow you to squint for the right candidate in Arkansas and West Virginia. Moreover, nationalizing this race and calling for a lot of outside donors might push voters reticent to pull the lever for Moore into doing so. On top of that, there’s a desire not to repeat the Ossoff debacle, where expectations were raised so high and millions of dollars of grassroots money came in for a district where it is very, very hard for Democrats to win.
None of these arguments are strong enough for me. First, the race is already nationalized because Moore won. Second, Moore is particularly odious. He will be one of the worst senators ever elected to the Senate, and when you consider the competition, that’s a very high bar. Third, people want to do something to contest Moore’s election, both inside and outside of Alabama. Fourth, you can’t let the opposition determine your electoral strategy. Running scared is not a way to run. Fifth, if you force Republicans to spend money in Alabama, it hurts them too. Sixth, while there are a lot of races to run in 2018, this is an excellent trial run at strategy. The Ossoff campaign was plagued by most of those dollars going to pointless consultants producing pamphlets filled with milquetoast focus-grouped talking points instead of organizing voters. There are different ways to do this and Jones has the opportunity to pull it off. Moreover, Jones does have a legitimate, if very difficult shot. If Jones won this race, it would be an enormous victory, not only a moral victory over Trump and Moore but a huge momentum changer for 2018. If Jones loses, it’s Alabama. The Ossoff loss did not embitter the Democratic base into giving up. Neither would a Jones loss.
This is a tough race. But Carville is correct. What’s the point of the Democratic Party if you aren’t going to contest a state when you have a great candidate and the other side has a historically bad candidate and a historically bad and unpopular president? I don’t doubt that an elected Doug Jones is going to be a Joe Manchin ally rather than a Bernie Sanders ally, but that’s not a bad thing given that Manchin has never to my knowledge been the deciding vote with Republicans on an issue that meant anything to Democrats.