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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.

The 2020 Senatorial Race in Alabama.

As you may know, Senator Jones lost his reelection bid in Alabama to some football guy. Some thoughts about WTF? to a football guy?!

Alabama did not want a serious senator who would bring good things to the state and the nation. That’s the solid conclusion of the 2020 senatorial race in Alabama. But let’s talk about why.


Donald John Trump would never have been nominated in 2016, much less elected, without finding a way to improve his stature, to make him seem like a real candidate. His first trick was to be a big asshole in announcing his run. That got enough attention to get his polls to a place he could get in the early debates. Then, standing next to prominent Republican senators, he bullied them, which further inflated his stature to the point he polled better and could start winning primaries. The media kept its eyes trained on him like he was a rabid unicorn, which kept him nice and plump all the way to the nomination, and once nominated his stature was fully established as a Republican-approved candidate to be the actual president.

Jones entered the special election with strong stature of his own, as did Roy Moore. But Moore got badly damaged, not by being the arrogant tool of the devil that he acts like, but because of national reporting on decades-old creepy behavior. Between that and the Black vote, Jones won that election (or, perhaps, Moore lost it).

Normally, incumbency is a strong part of stature. But Alabama loves college football in a way that could only be called a fetish. Tuberville was never a serious candidate, but he had the fetishized stature to get the nomination in a runoff, and too few Alabamians care about reasonable government, so that stature alone was enough to make him the senator.

The main takeaway here is that if you’re running for an office, you have to find some way to gain sufficient stature. Debates are a great way to do that, but Alabama Republicans are well-known for ducking debates, because they don’t want to lose or give a Democrat any profile.

Messaging matters, not so much the message.

Tuberville has no real agenda, just like Donald John Trump. The message doesn’t matter. Most voters aren’t listening anyway.

Up in Maine, Senator Collins ran an add against Sarah Gideon with the basic message that Gideon had all these priorities. It got a broadened run as Democrats made fun of it for highlighting Gideon’s positively-polling positions. I think the message had nothing to do with a tangle of number-one-priorities, but it was all about saying: “Sarah Gideon wants to make all these fucking changes, Maine. Are you ready for all these fucking changes?” In other words, the gut-level of the ad wasn’t anything about any of the issues. It was a how-dare-she for having ideas, for having a platform.

There’s a squint-test in graphics design. You squint your eyes so you can’t really see the content, just the contrast of white-space to text or graphics. You want to see a nice balance there. The folks doing ads for the Democrats need to do their own squint-tests with their ads. Fuck the message, make sure the sound and shape of the thing appeals to the gut of the people you’re trying to reach.

Even something as simple as Jones’ ads ending with him indoors saying he approved the ad—he should have been in some kind of outdoor shot, maybe standing in the middle of a rural highway—missed the signal. (Likely done that way to seem relatable re: COVID-19 stay-at-home, too few Alabamians care about protecting their state from a novel and potentially-deadly virus, so it didn’t really hit as maybe it should have.) Dumb shit plays with a lot of people (and not just in the south). If Jones had done one of those stunt-ads (blow up a tree stump, slap handcuffs on someone in a non-sexual context, or even cook a steak on a grill), it would have boosted him with the folks who went with Tuberville. Most liberals would have shrugged or maybe laughed without it affecting their vote.

Republicans don’t care about policy. They care about the emotion of the message. “Democrats are gonna try to stop robocalls from bugging you all the time” is an effective Republican message, because it says the Democrats will deprive you of something, even something you hate.

Liberals mostly don’t care about that hokey bullshit. As long as the policy is there and thoughtful, you’ll get their votes.

If Democrats ran a message “Republicans are blocking changing the borders of Florida to make it look like an AR-15” the voters would eat it up down there. Boom, six more Democratic senators, three new states, and a reconfigured Florida that looks like a gun, plus three states that look like the mud that rifle was dropped in. (In all probability, envy would then spark several other southern states to split up so they could shape themselves into firearms, cannons, trebuchets, whatever. And in a generation we’d have to teach kids why the map looks like a homicidal six-year-old drew it.)

Upton Sinclair was right: hit them in the gut.

The policy obviously doesn’t matter, because Tuberville doesn’t have policy. Donald John Trump hasn’t policy. For a large group of people, the policy is not even secondary to the tone and package. It just doesn’t factor in for them. They’ll buy a dump in a box marked guaranteed over a quality product.

(Wherein I was going to throw a few bones about the future, but the present is still not officially called, so skipping to the end.

I will say of the presidential race, it was either the-economy-stupid, or it was nearly the-economy-stupid. While other factors like racism and deal-with-devil-Republicans (no gun laws, anti-abortion, anti-taxes, etc.) were certainly factors, I don’t think it’s as close as it is (was) without a strong recovery. The flip-side is that most incumbents would have taken this race handily.)

Started working on a new book. Hum.

No Debate.

The final debate of 2020 should be remembered as the night Joe Biden debated while a chattering Donald John Trump spewed desperate empty lies.

The moderator asked question after question. Biden defined the problem posed, offered his solution. Trump often showed no understanding of the problem (even admitting it on several occasions) and resorted to the same tired lies (often repeating them within the same answer).

There should be no debate: Joe Biden should be our next president.

On the virus. Joe Biden wants to follow science. He urged masks be worn: a message any political figure should be harping on as often as possible, even this far into the pandemic. He knows a lot of people have been hurt by the virus and by failed efforts to contain it. He wants to do the job right, not just lie about it and promise miracles that never occur.

On the economy. Joe Biden wants to build new industry, expanding clean energy production that will go hand-in-hand with a better electric grid, will help us build the infrastructure for the next 100 years. He does believe high-incomes and corporations should pay more taxes, because while public debt is a tool, it should be used wisely.

On healthcare. Joe Biden wants to add a public option, so that those who aren’t on Medicaid, because their states rejected a no-brainer policy, can still get coverage, so that those who go on the ACA website (or state exchanges) have another choice that will ensure competition.

On immigration. Joe Biden knows that America needs people to come in, to build new families, to build new businesses. We thrive when we can have an orderly and well-run immigration system that makes proper room for labor both skilled and unskilled. But he also offers education and other tools to citizens, so that even as immigrants join us, we can all fit into the American jigsaw puzzle.

On foreign policy. Joe Biden wants to build relationships with our allies, to expand the reach of democracy across the globe so that, come some sunny day, malign actors currently dictating to their countries are replaced by civic-minded governments that care for their people, their neighbors, and the world. We should be working with the world on this pandemic, and we will need to work with them even after, to better prepare for the next one.

On racism. Joe Biden understands the stupidity of punishing our own people for the color of their skin, that it costs us our American spirit, it costs us jobs and economy, and it costs us untold opportunity for communal enrichment. It has to end. That means better law enforcement that respects human rights and civil rights. That means, bare minimum that his opponent fails at: acknowledge the problem.

On climate. Joe Biden understands the threat of global warming, rising seas, hurricanes, floods, fires. He wants to act to reduce it. He wants to clean up pollution other than carbon pollution, too. While carbon fuels are currently part of both our economy and our energy mix, that’s got to phase out over time. It may not get to zero for some time, but our carbon budget has to become net zero pretty quick. Those who work in affected industries know this to be true, and pretending that it can be otherwise is fantasy. But their industries and their workers can take responsibility and make the transition less stressful and more managed if they so choose.

On America. Joe Biden knows the promise America stands for, and he wants to try to help fulfill that promise. He wants us to feel at home in our own nation, to work together to make it as good as it can be.

Donald John Trump? I have no idea what he knows, wants, or understands. There was no debate. There was Joe Biden, giving real answers to questions, and there was the other guy, doing nothing of the sort. That was his choice.

The election is a week from Tuesday. Please vote. Please make your choice.