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13 December 2017

What does Doug Jones’s narrow win in Alabama mean for the Democrats’ future?

It has big consequences for the party’s hopes of taking control of the Senate.

By Stephen Bush

Doug Jones, a Democrat, has won the vacant Senate seat of Alabama, the first Democratic victory in a quarter-century in one of the United States’ reddest states, defeating Roy Moore, who had been repeatedly accused of sexual offences with young women and girls, including those as young as 14.

Jones narrowly defeated Moore, taking 49.9 per cent of the vote against 48.4 per cent. To give you an idea of the scale of the victory – the last time this seat was up for grabs, the Republican incumbent Jefferson Sessions won unopposed. It’s a reminder both of the astonishing scale of American, particularly GOP partisanship but that it does, at least, have limits.

Jones’s victory had two sources: differential abstention, with black voters turning out at a significantly higher rate than white ones, and a small but significant number of white voters making the direct switch from Republican to Democrat.

While the credible accusations leveled against the defeated Moore mean that this was a contest with a lot going on that will not be replicated at a nationwide level in the midterms in 2018, it has big consequences for Democratic hopes of taking control of the Senate.

The Democrats face a formidably difficult map in November, where they are defending 23 seats, many in red states, and attacking just eight. (A further two seats are held by independents, Angus King and Bernie Sanders, who caucus with the Democrats.)

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Read more: This is a blow for Donald Trump – but Democrats can’t get carried away

Before last night, they needed to make three gains, a big ask given the historically Republican-leaning states they need to win. Just one of those eight Republican holds is in a state that the Democrats won in 2016, Nevada, and the next most plausible target, Arizona, they haven’t won at a presidential level since 1996 or at a Senate level since 1988. This gives you an idea of the scale of the challenge.

But in gaining Alabama the Democrats have turned their hopes of winning a Senate majority from an impossibility to a longshot, but plausible task. As someone famous once said: just rejoice at that news.