Democrats didn’t just win Alabama on Tuesday night. They won their clearest path yet to taking back the Senate majority next year.
No, we’re not saying the Senate majority will definitely switch parties in next November’s midterm elections as a result of one race, as remarkable as the race was. But thanks to Alabama, Democrats’ path just got a lot easier.
Before Tuesday, Democrats needed to pick up three seats to take back the majority from Senate Republicans’ 52-48 hold. Now that Democrats have picked up the last state they ever thought would be in their column, they need to pick up two more.
That sounds way easier than it actually is. Most of Democrats’ effort will be focused on saving their incumbents from losing to Republicans next year.
Democrats are defending three times as many seats as Republicans in 2018 (a function of Democrats’ success in 2012 elections). Ten of those Democrats are running in states that went for President Donald Trump. By a lot. In West Virginia, Trump beat Hillary Clinton by more than 40 percentage points.
Put another way: The map is still very, very difficult for Democrats next year. But nearly everything that needs to align to give them a chance under difficult circumstances appears to be aligning. And then some.
We’ve laid out above that, thanks to Sen.-elect Doug Jones, D-Alabama, Democrats need two pickup opportunities. They have at least three.
Democrats have a pickup opportunity in Nevada, where Republican Sen. Dean Heller is caught between a pro-Trump primary challenger and a state that voted for Clinton last year. In Arizona, Democrats got a huge gift when Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, retired rather than run for re-election in a party that likes Trump more than he does. In Tennessee, Republican Sen. Bob Corker announced his retirement and a popular former Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen, announced last week he’d try to to win the seat.
None of those races are guaranteed to go to Democrats, even after an extraordinary win in Alabama.
Even before Alabama, Democrats were hoping that Republicans’ intra-party fights would make it easier for Democrats to get their 10 vulnerable senators re-elected.
Because when Republicans fight among themselves, they tend to nominate bad candidates who lose winnable elections. It happened in Senate races in Missouri and Indiana in 2012 when Republican voters elected flawed candidates who said controversial things about rape.
And that definitely manifested in Alabama. Moore was the candidate of the establishment’s nightmares: controversial, scandalous, defiant. And yet despite Senate Republican leaders’ best efforts to promote another candidate in the runoff, Republican voters picked Moore anyway for the nomination. Then he failed spectacularly.
“The outcome today is a result of an absolutely terrible candidate running an absolutely terrible campaign that results in a state that never should be in question being competitive,” said Josh Holmes, a GOP strategist and former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told The Post before the race was called.
The fact Moore was even a candidate suggests that Senate Republican establishment doesn’t have a handle on their base.
Add into the mix that forces want to burn the Republican Party down from the right (mostly in the form of former Trump chief strategist and Breitbart chairman Stephen Bannon), and Republicans are a party in crisis right now.
Democrats aren’t perfectly in line, either. They are struggling to define what they even stand for ahead of next year’s elections. But the map appears to be moving in Democrats’ favor anyway.
As Republicans learned the hard way Tuesday, there are no guarantees in politics. Democrats learned when they lost their Senate majority in 2014.
Case in point of the unpredictable skewing party’s plans: After Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, announced his resignation over sexual misconduct allegations. Democrats will have to defend a potentially competitive Senate seat in Minnesota next year that wasn’t supposed to be up for election for another two years.
But overall, the stars seem to be aligning to allow Democrats an opportunity to take back the Senate majority much sooner than they ever thought.
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