I have never before taken much interest in Alabama politics.
But like millions of people across the nation with no ties to the “Heart of Dixie,” I anxiously awaited the results of Tuesday’s special election between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones.
I wasn’t disappointed with the outcome. Anyone who cares about the future of conservatism shouldn’t be either.
Yes, Senate Republicans lost a seat that should never have been in contention. After all, Jeff Sessions made state history in 2014 when he drew no opponent in the general election. The seat might have been the safest in the country for Republicans.
With key judicial nominations hanging in the balance, now is not a good time for Republicans to be down one vote in Congress’ upper chamber.
And being that Senator-elect Doug Jones, a supporter of abortion rights, appeared to all but endorse infanticide during a recent interview, it’s not quite appropriate to celebrate his victory.
But as a conservative, the defeat of Roy Moore, who was a terrible candidate before the allegations of gross sexual misconduct surfaced, is important. I daresay, it’s cause for hope.
There has been a fair amount of chatter about how black women, 98 percent of whom supported Jones, were the driving force behind the Democrat’s victory. They certainly had an impact, but believe it or not, conservatives — or people other than Democrats — deserve a lot of credit for Roy Moore’s defeat.
Republican voter turnout was depressed. According to Nate Cohn in the New York Times, “Democrats benefited from strong turnout that plainly exceeded midterm levels, while white working-class Republicans voted in weaker numbers.”
Given the amount of attention this week’s election garnered, low GOP turnout is a clear sign that a huge swath of right-leaning Alabama voters were so disgusted with the Republican nominee that they simply elected to stay home.
Others voted but chose to write in the name of someone they found more fit for office. In a move that took real political courage, that’s exactly what Sen. Richard Shelby did. Shelby announced last Sunday that he would write in the name of a “distinguished Republican” and urged GOP voters to do the same. Some see Shelby’s move as decisive in giving other Republican voters an opening to oppose their party’s nominee.
Apparently, many write-ins were for Nick Saban. While the head football coach of the Crimson Tide didn’t win, the number of write-in ballots made a difference.
According to the latest tallies, there were 22,777 write-in ballots cast.
Jones’ margin of victory over Moore was 21,311.
Lastly, there is polling data to suggest that in addition to not voting or using the write-in option, many Republicans likely voted for Jones simply to say “no” to Moore.
That’s a big deal, especially given Donald Trump’s support for Moore and his own margin of victory in Alabama last November.
Moore was so radioactive that he received only 49 percent of Trump’s vote total, while Jones received 92 percent of Hillary Clinton’s. Clearly, a lot of people who voted for Trump decided Moore was a bridge too far. That’s a good thing.
After allegations surfaced that Moore, 70, had dated — and in two cases assaulted — teenage girls when he was in his 30s, most Republican senators walked away from him. But after Moore denied the allegations, Trump essentially endorsed him.
Moore’s loss avoids the spectacle of Republicans having to answer for Moore’s presence in the Senate. Even Democrats, who suffered total amnesia about their own defense and dismissal of an accused rapist (in the White House) successfully pressured their one of their own senators accused of sexual misconduct, Al Franken, to resign.
Some GOP leaders, or those who masquerade as Republicans, have struggled or refused to complete this unpleasant but necessary task.
Fortunately, that failure of leadership did not trickle down to many conservatives in Alabama, who, as writer David French put it, engaged in a “mass rebellion.”
By the numbers, the Alabama special election was a loss for the GOP, but it was a win for conservatism and voters who are disillusioned with the direction the party has taken.
Moore and his ilk got the message. Hopefully, GOP leaders did, too.
Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may send her email at [email protected]