Democrats have in recent decades developed a spotty record of waging serious Senate races in what was once the party’s “solid South.” Since Strom Thurmond, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan lured the region to the Republican ballot line with coded messages that were intended to exploit the racial divisions that President Lyndon Johnson sought to address when he signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, it is no secret that Democrats have had a harder and harder time gaining traction in the states of the Deep South.
The party has not won a contest for an open Senate seat in the region for years. In many states, it has struggled to recruit credible candidates. Indeed, things were so bad in 2014 that it barely made an effort to defend its last incumbent in the region, then–Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, in the runoff election that ultimately turned her out of office. “They just walked away from this race,” said Landrieu as she strove to retain a historically Democratic seat.
After Landrieu was defeated, a New York Times headline read: “Demise of the Southern Democrat Is Now Nearly Complete.”
So when Alabama Democrats and supporters of the national party’s old “50-state strategy” started arguing over the summer that Democrats needed to get serious about the race to fill the Alabama US Senate seat that had been vacated by the region’s most lamentable contribution to the Trump cabinet—Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III—the notion was not universally embraced. Yes, the Democratic nominee for the seat was an impressive man: Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor with deep roots in the state and impeccable law-enforcement credentials. But was Alabama really ready to elect a candidate who proudly prosecuted the extremists who targeted abortion clinics and went after the racists who were responsible for the 1963 bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham?
Now, however, the Alabama seat is clearly in play; not because the state is veering left (even if the results of the recent mayoral race in Birmingham represent an encouraging embrace of progressivism) but because the Republicans nominated a horrible person as their candidate to fill the Sessions seat.
Judge Roy Moore was the worst of the worst—a lawless scoundrel who kept getting bumped off the state’s high court—even before he was accused this week of molesting teenage girls. With the shocking news reports that Moore “made sexual or romantic overtures to [girls] when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s,” national Republicans who retain a shred of conscience are calling for their party’s nominee in Alabama’s December 12 special election to quit the contest.