Alabama and the Way Forward for Democrats in Red States
As the national spotlight on Alabama has quickly faded, we, as Democrats, cannot and must not lose the incredible opportunity that comes with Doug Jones’ Senate win last month.
Sure, some might downplay Jones’ victory by noting the Herculean effort it took (including knocking on 300,000 doors) just to beat an accused pedophile by less than two points. And others might wonder how Democrats can compete in a normal election year after winning so narrowly in a runoff.
However, I’m confident Jones would have won by at least five to ten points if only we had access to the basic campaign infrastructure, including voter contact systems, that are standard issue for state parties in nearly every other part of the country. Keep in mind, only two staffers work full-time for the Alabama Democratic Party and we have far less than the required bandwidth to communicate with voters.
So, as the euphoric moment subsides and hundreds of campaign workers, from inside and outside Alabama, have returned to their regular lives, let’s seize the moment and set an example for other states and districts where Democrats have become uncompetitive.
In addition to significantly investing in party infrastructure, we should begin by focusing on two groups of voters: activated Democrats who didn’t previously bother to get involved because they felt disenfranchised, and moderate Republicans who have shown a willingness to split their tickets. It should be noted that women heavily dominate both groups and that African American women in particular mobilized in a dramatic way to lift Jones to victory. To build on our momentum, we must stay in touch with these voters and the issues that matter to them.
Simply put, we need a Democratic agenda that better speaks to concerns of the people of Alabama — one that adheres to our history of investing in people and creating opportunity, instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all national party platform that has for too long turned off too many of our state’s residents.
One source of inspiration for Democrats in mostly-red regions is The Way Forward, a recently published document from The NewDEAL — and organization of which I am a member that supports rising, innovative state and local pro-growth Democrats across the country. These leaders are worth emulating because they are not only implementing successful policies that address the core challenges of the new economy, but they are also winning everywhere — in red, blue, and purple regions. Their policy proposals are united by a forward-looking approach to investing in opportunity by better preparing the workforce for today’s jobs, spurring innovation and entrepreneurship, and modernizing the social safety net.
In Alabama, our State House Democrats are finalizing a legislative agenda that is specific to Alabama and speaks to concerns that transcend political ideology. The platform we are writing doesn’t play into stereotypes about progressives and reflects values shared by that the majority of our citizens, including:
Reversing the chronic underinvestment in our schools, while attracting and retaining top-notch, dedicated teachers;
Providing workforce development opportunities, including dual enrollment programs, industrial training, and at least two years of tuition at in-state colleges, so all Alabamians acquire the skills to earn a good living;
Supporting small business;
Investing in infrastructure and innovation; and
Supporting access to health insurance, including for our most vulnerable citizens who qualify for Medicaid.
Long-neglected and historically under-performing state parties in Alabama and throughout the South must look forward. After all, we cannot go back in time, even if we wanted to!
However, we cannot make all of this happen on our own. We need and deserve a national party that doesn’t forget about us, whether or not the next federal election is expected to be a nail-biter. We need to rededicate ourselves to being competitive in all races, while also recruiting new blood and electing as many Democrats as possible down the ballot. Those leaders will build a bench of candidates for higher office and success in one state will enthuse others.
In addition, the national party should recognize and appreciate that Democrats in places like Alabama must tailor their messages to embrace core tenants of the Party while also setting themselves apart from the national machine.
Yes, it’s easy for pundits to characterize Doug Jones as an outlier, an exception, or even a fluke in a state where Democrats control only 28 percent of the state legislature and hold zero statewide offices. But they’re ignoring recent history. Just seven years ago, Democrats controlled both the state house and state senate and held three statewide offices.
We can do better today. Let’s not think of Senator-elect Jones’ achievement as the end of a historic campaign, but rather as the beginning of a new one. Let’s keep the train rolling and make Democrats relevant in Alabama, competitive across the South, and aggressive in other red states.