Are the Dems on a roll? Alabama and Virginia are quite different–Alabama a hard core, deep red state and Virginia purple, trending blue– but the results show some common trends, which are all good news for Democrats. Here are my takeaways:
- Yes, Trump is really bad, and a large majority of the country has pretty much figured it out. There is no question that a significant number of voters in both states (predominately women) cast their votes against what they see happening in the White House and in the Republican Party. The good news here is that people are realizing what a disaster the Republicans are creating. The word of caution is that registering a protest vote is not enough by itself to carry the Democrats to victory in 2018 or 2020. And it is also took a Roy Moore to move Alabama from red to (barely) blue. Democrats aren’t likely to get that lucky again.
- Besides the I’ve-had-enough vote, there were four things that in my view made a big difference:
- In both states the Democrats ran a center-left candidate, without glamor or charisma, but with tangible decency. This I believe is really important in determining the kind of candidates that can win in purple and light red states and congressional districts.
- In both states—but especially Alabama– turnout from African Americans and other minorities made a huge difference. As many African Americans voted in 2017 in Alabama as they did in 2008 and 2012 when Obama was on the ballot. In Virginia they also played a big role. Voter turnout of minorities is important—especially in states and districts where the minority population is high. Democrats had a strong get-out-the-vote effort in Alabama targeting black voters, and it worked.
- We could well be entering what might be the political era of the woman. More women vote than men, and they are, frankly, more open minded, tolerant and repulsed by male chauvinism and sexual harassment (which unfortunately is not limited to Republicans). Many believe the #me too movement is ushering in a sea change. A huge percentage of women voted for Jones over Moore, including white women living in suburban neighborhoods that historically voted Republican. This also will be a factor in selecting candidates in 2018 and 2020. The number of women expressing an interest in running for office is skyrocketing.
- The other key voting group are the Millennials, people born between (roughly) 1980 and 2000. They are now the largest voting cohort in U.S. elections and lean Democratic. Again voter turnout of this Demographic group will be extremely important in 2018.
- There has been much discussion over the revolt of the white working class in the 2016 presidential election. The results of the Virginia and Alabama elections suggest that the Democrats did not make any significant inroads with this voting block. In these two states, Trump’s hard core base seems to have stuck with the Republican candidate. What this shows is that the Democrats can win without this demographic group if the party nominates strong candidates not too far to the left, allowing Democrats to capture more of the huge suburban vote—especially moderate Republican woman voters and independents.
This does not mean that Democrats should write off the white working class vote . Democrats should have a message of reconciliation, job and wage growth and economic fairness and propose policies which benefit this group. The party does not have to and should not dumb down its message or pursue social policies which appeal more to them.
In summary, these two elections are reason for optimism for Democrats like me, but we have our work cut out for us. It is not clear how the tax act will fit into the picture, but I do not see how it can help the Republicans. The big takeaways from the two recent elections are strong, authentic candidates, not too far to the left, and voter turnout, voter turnout, and voter turnout.