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More Thoughts on Doug Jones’ 2020 Election Loss.

Things that might have made a difference: House races, a primary fight, and no Donald John Trump.

House Races.

In 2020 only four of the seven House seats in Alabama had a contest; the other three were unopposed (including the lone Democratic seat). Doug Jones would have done at least marginally better had the other two seats had Democratic candidates.

The math is simple: even if you only draw a few more Democrats out by having a House candidate to vote for, that’s still a few more people who can vote for you for Senate. This is especially true because of hardcore gerrymandering of Alabama House seats: the single Democratic seat was already going to turn out for Doug Jones, but in the suburbs and exurbs where they’re separated into these other districts? It’s marginal, but having someone on the ballot matters.

There’s also the experimental and experiential aspects; running some candidate who won’t win gives you a chance to maintain some idea of how the district actually performs. You can throw a few ideas at a district, see what happens. Have a candidate that only reads fortune cookies, something. Who knows what’ll happen.

Which is the other piece. The running candidate could have a major scandal, could die, whatever. Having someone running against them gives some chance to have a sudden shift net a seat.

Finally, having a candidate with at least minimal funding would have given Jones a surrogate in the area to be accessible to media. One more voice cheering for the team couldn’t hurt, could it?

Lack of a Primary.

Jones ran unopposed for the nomination. Had there been a primary, there’s some small risk he would have lost it, and even if he didn’t, there’d be some resources spent. But having him butt heads with a fellow Democrat could actually have been a positive. Depending on challengers, it would have given a chance to define himself and how he differed from other Alabama Democrats.

That last part is key: if state Democratic voters picked Jones over a more liberal candidate, it could be taken as a signal to moderates that Jones isn’t some pinko and should be given a better look. Brains like contrasts, and party primaries are one way to add some shading to who candidates are and aren’t.

Going back to ways to experiment and gain experience, it would have offered some ways to test messaging and strategy before moving into the general election. The fuss over the Republicans picking a candidate generated some energy on their side. Alabama voters love competition and drama, one supposes.

In general, Democrats in the House and Senate should welcome primaries. None of this blacklist-firms-who-help-primary. They are great chances to develop talent, check the engine’s running right, and increase interest in the elections. There are risks, spending too much on them, having the race get away from you by having someone that doesn’t fit the general electorate. But done right, they are useful, and there’s always the fact that it’s the right fucking thing to do. It’s the democratic thing.

Donald John Trump on the Ballot and the Map.

It was always going to be tough to pull off, with so many Alabamians itching to fill an oval for their favorite president. Hell, in 2017 Senator Jones only barely pulled it off, some 20 000 votes. Even without the top of the ticket, it might still have been a crush out of the embarrassment Alabama Republicans felt at letting one slip away from them. But if you compare the 2020 map and the 2017 map, it tells the tale.

First, the Black Belt. It spread north and south in 2017, and it contracted in 2020. Alabama Democrats gotta know that there’s a lot of opportunity in that area. That’s half their future, right there. Build on it. Fund it.

Second, Mobile and Huntsville (and to a lesser extent the college towns). Their counties, Mobile County and Madison County, they gotta be blue. Same reason as the Black Belt: there’s enough Democratic voters there, that you can make a push to spread that notion in those areas.

The how of spreading is harder. Senator Richard Shelby is trying to build a second FBI in Huntsville, which is earning him support.


Every election reveals more to us about who our fellow voters are and aren’t. But extrapolating the choices they make to who they are, deep down, is often a mistake. Walk through a company’s staff parking, see the cars the people drive, you can learn something about them. But you can’t touch their souls. There’s no Sherlock-Holmes-method to extrapolate too deep from limited data. Still, we do learn something.

The inauguration of President-elect Biden and Vice-president-elect Harris is in eight weeks.