MONTGOMERY, Alabama (AP) — To Democrats, Senate candidate Doug Jones’ stunning victory in reliably Republican Alabama is more than a quirky one-off. Instead, party leaders cast the upset as a sign of growing nationwide momentum among voters opposed to President Donald Trump and an indication that Democrats shouldn’t shy away from competing in Republican territory.
Democrats were bolstered in particular by the higher turnout in Alabama among African-Americans, particularly women; young voters and voters in urban areas, along with a diminished GOP advantage in some small towns and rural areas. The Alabama returns track other high-profile elections where Democrats have pulled out victories this year, including the governor’s seat and other statewide offices in Virginia, and several dozen state legislative seats around the country.
“We’re feeling the sunshine from Alabama all the way in Washington state,” said Gov. Jay Inslee, who chairs the party’s gubernatorial campaign arm. “We’re seeing a passion for voting (and) this phenomenon exists in every state. It will expand the universe of competitive races.”
Certainly, Alabama’s Senate contest presented Democrats with a unique set of circumstances, most notably the accusations of sexual misconduct against GOP candidate Roy Moore. The allegations against Moore split the Republican Party, with Trump robustly backing the former judge and other party leaders calling for Moore to step aside.
Even so, Jones’ 1.5-point win was stunning given that Trump won Alabama by 28 points just 13 months ago. And Alabama tilts far more heavily toward Republicans than many of the House districts and states Democrats will aim for in the midterm elections.
The Senate and House line-up for 2018 still poses real obstacles for Democrats as they seek a path back to the majority. But party officials also see opportunities on the horizon to flip enough seats to reclaim control of Congress, dent GOP advantages in statehouses and diminish Trump’s political sway in the final two years of his term.
Democrats need to flip 24 seats for a House majority. National Democrats have a target list of about 90 seats, including the 23 Republican-held districts that Trump lost to Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.
In the Senate, Democrats must defend 10 seats in states where Trump won. With Jones’ upset of Moore, they need to net a two-seat gain, and see opportunities in Nevada, where Trump lost, and Arizona, which could be a toss-up.