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Ground Game

Here’s what Democrats need to do to win that Alabama seat

With Republican Roy Moore in a political spiral, Democrat Doug Jones has a path to victory in the Alabama US Senate race. But he’ll need to put together two essential ingredients.Brynn Anderson/Associated Press/File 2017

It’s been some time since anyone asked how a Democrat could get elected to a US Senate seat in Alabama. The last time a Democrat came within 20 percentage points of winning a Senate seat there was in 2002. The last time a Democrat came within 10 points was 1996. Republican presidential candidates have won seven times in a row.

But with Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore in a political spiral ahead of the Dec. 12 special election, Democrats are dusting off the playbook on how they could actually win in the Deep South.

The playbook says two things absolutely must happen. One has already happened. The other is a work in progress.


The first requirement is that Republicans somehow split their vote on a large scale. Republicans outnumber Democrats in Alabama by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio. With numbers like that, a lackluster Republican will beat a blockbuster Democrat every time. Only in a very rare case can a Republican candidate lose so much support that an election is even in play.

Moore presents such a case. Moore, removed from the state’s Supreme Court twice in the past, was still expected to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But in the past week, five women have accused Moore of sexual misconduct in the past.

Moore’s denials have not convinced his Republican colleagues. Nearly all have said he should drop out of the race. Now Republicans are considering a write-in campaign for someone else, which would splinter the GOP vote.

But even a robust write-in campaign won’t guarantee a victory for Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. For that, he would need the second requirement: a high African-American turnout.

Jones seems to know this. He just turned down an invitation to visit Washington later this week. Instead, he will stay in Alabama aiming to drive turnout in liberal enclaves and the so-called Black Belt of the state (named after the rich soil, not race, though because of slavery they are often linked).


Boosting turnout among African-Americans in this belt, which includes Montgomery and Selma, is the single most important thing that Jones and Democrats can do to help them win in three weeks.

Fund-raising e-mails from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren might be nice but have a marginal effect. The campaign event that Jones had with civil rights legend John Lewis over the weekend was more on point.

A poll out this week showed Jones getting 85 percent of the African-American vote, but it is hard to poll who will actually show up for a special election in the middle of December.

Jones cannot afford to have that kind of support stay home.

Keep in mind the stakes for a Democratic win in Alabama next month. The winner of this election stays in the Senate until 2020. The flip of the seat from Republican hands to Democratic ones would mean that for the first time Democrats have a real shot at capturing the Senate majority in midterm elections next year.

James Pindell can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics: