Tuesday night, Alabama Republicans chose Roy Moore, an extreme rightwing demagogue, as their nominee for the U.S. Senate in the special election to be held this December.
Some pundits assume - I think incorrectly - that Moore will be a shoe-in in the general election because he has an "R" after his name and Alabama is a very red state.
Here's why I think the shoe-in theory is pretty shaky. Alabama Democrats had the good sense to choose as their nominee an exceptional candidate - former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones. I got to know Doug when I was the U.S. Attorney for Idaho, and can attest to the fact that he is smart and tough and principled. And, tempting though it might be, Jones isn’t making the race about Donald Trump. He knows that Trump remains popular in much of Alabama and is focusing on the issues – the economy, jobs, health care, women’s rights and the environment. On each and every issue, Moore is to the right of just about anybody, Genghis Khan included.
The differences between Jones and Moore are stark – especially when it comes to respect for the rule of law. Doug Jones is a civil rights champion. He prosecuted the KKK. He believes in the rule of law. The same cannot be said of Moore, a former state court judge, who refused to follow a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument, which Moore had installed, from the courthouse. The federal court ruled that the monument violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. When Moore disobeyed the federal court, a state panel ruled that he had violated the judicial ethics code and removed him from the bench.
A few years later after being returned to the state bench by a narrow margin, Moore again thumbed his nose at the Constitution when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling legalizing gay marriage. Moore ordered state judges to disregard the ruling and instead enforce the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. In response, a state court panel suspended Moore for the rest of his term.
And Moore is a conspiracy theorist. Most notably, he perpetuated the false “birtherism” narrative exploited by Donald Trump. Unlike Trump, Moore never conceded that “birtherism” was a lie. He defended it as recently as last December.
Alabama may be a red state, and Roy Moore may have an inherent advantage because he is a member of the dominant political party, but Doug Jones is no pushover, and this race will be aggressively contested. Yet, as I watch the national Democrats dither about whether to jump into the race with both feet, I have a troubling sense of deja-vu.
Time and time again, Democrats in Idaho and other red states have recruited capable challengers to Republican incumbents and been ignored by the "we know better" Beltway Democrats. We can have more than a little empathy for a great Democratic candidate running in a red state. This is especially true when some of us live in states, like Idaho, where we won’t have a chance to replace an incumbent GOP senator until 2020 or 2022.
Another Democrat in the U.S. Senate makes it more likely that the Trump-McConnell agenda, including the appointment of another far right justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, will not succeed. Moreover, this race will be decided in a little over two months. Reminded of the old saw, “Strike while the iron is hot,” I have to think the iron is about as hot as it’s going to get.
The Republicans have nominated a venal individual and, in so doing, have given Democrats an outside shot at winning this race. We can’t count on the national party to rally behind Jones. If Jones is going to garner the resources he needs to win, it will be up to the grassroots to provide them.