Editorial: An embarrassment is avoided with Alabama race

Published 6:30 pm Sunday, December 17, 2017

Alabama on Tuesday avoided embarrassing itself and staining the U.S. Senate. And while the result complicates life a bit in the short term for the Republican leadership in Congress, it also avoids a more significant problem for the GOP.

That it was only by a narrow margin underscores how unlikely the result of Tuesday’s special Senate election was. Alabama has become as reliably Republican a state as there is. Any other Republican candidate would have won this election easily.

But Alabama’s Republicans selected the most disruptive and extreme candidate in their primary field. This is a consistent pattern in gerrymandered districts and one-party states: The extremes control the nomination process because there is little electoral motivation to moderate.

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But this time it backfired. Roy Moore’s baggage, not all of which was known when he won the Republican primary two months ago, proved too much. Moore was, to put it bluntly, the worst statewide candidate anywhere at least since David Duke won the Republican nomination for governor in Louisiana. And Moore almost won anyway.

So Doug Jones should enjoy his three years as senator; it’s unlikely the Republicans will find another opponent for him as unqualified and inept in 2020, when the seat comes up for its regular turn.

Meanwhile, the Republican advantage in the Senate will shrink to one vote when Jones is seated later this month, after Tuesday’s election is certified. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has found running the chamber difficult enough before this; now two defections can kill a partisan bill. And even considering how bad a candidate Moore was, that a Democrat won in Alabama is a strong indication of how strong the popular tide against the GOP is heading into next year’s general elections.

The plus side for McConnell: He, and his party, don’t have to deal with Moore. And the insurgency against McConnell and the party establishment declared by Moore supporter Steve Bannon has taken a serious dent. McConnell’s position at the top of the caucus is more secure.

We can hope that the narrowed margin, and the evidence of public disdain for this GOP Congress, will induce a change to what Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., urged during the health-care debacle: a return to “regular order” with committees driving legislation and an open process that allows the minority party input. We can hope.

— Mankato Free Press, Dec. 14

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