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The following is a statement by Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
The surprise election of Doug Jones to the Senate sends an unmistakable message to members of Congress up for reelection in 2018. To Democrats, the message is that you have a progressive base that will turn out for you – if you fight for them. To Republicans in competitive races, the message is that you better distinguish and separate yourselves from a party brand, a President, and a Congressional leadership that cater to the base and that ignore moderate members.
Here are my key takeaways from the Alabama race:
1. The Alabama election should make Republican moderates more nervous and Democratic moderates more confident. The end-of-the-year fight over a must-pass spending package could well turn on the following dynamic: which party’s moderates step up and act courageously. If Republican moderates who want to protect Dreamers promise to withhold their vote for a spending package unless Dreamer relief is included, Republican leadership will be compelled to negotiate a bipartisan breakthrough. Since most of these moderate Republicans are in competitive districts, they have a strong incentive to distinguish and separate themselves from a president, a party, and a brand that are increasingly toxic. As Ron Brownstein writing for the Atlantic puts it, “After Alabama, Republicans up and down the ballot face urgent choices about whether they will continue to lash themselves to the mast of Trump’s storm-tossed presidency.” On the other hand, moderate Democrats, including the ten Senators up for reelection in states that Trump carried in 2016, should be buoyed by Alabama and more confident in standing tall for progressive stances that mobilize Democratic voters. If they remain united with their colleagues on Democratic priorities – including the Dream Act – they will win a showdown and will be rewarded for doing so. If they do not – and, as I predict, delay means defeat – Democrats will be blamed for not standing up for the American kids being exposed to deportation to countries they barely remember.
2. Progressive enthusiasm is sky high. According to Brownstein, “Jones beat Moore with strong turnout and a crushing lead among African Americans; a decisive advantage among younger voters; and major gains among college-educated and suburban whites, especially women. That allowed Jones to overcome big margins for Moore among the key elements of Trump’s coalition: older, blue-collar, evangelical, and non-urban white voters.” He added, “This was the same equation that powered the Democratic victories in the Virginia and New Jersey governors’ races. The consistency of these results suggests Democrats are coalescing a powerful coalition of the very voters that polls have shown are the most disenchanted, even disgusted, by Trump’s performance and behavior as president.”
3. Congressional Democrats need to fight for progressive priorities and win to sustain that enthusiasm. Democrats in Congress are hoping for a wave election in 2018. But taking advantage of the opportunity will require enthusiasm and extraordinary turnout. That is why Democratic leadership in Congress is fighting so hard to use their leverage to deliver in this end-of-the-year spending package – arguably the last piece of major legislation before the 2018 midterms – and to underscore their commitment to progressive priorities. These priorities include finding parity between domestic and defense spending, reauthorizing the children’s health program, and enacting the Dream Act. If, however, Republicans maneuver to break Democratic resolve and unity and succeed in derailing the Dream Act, the result will be a spending bill that funds the deportation of Dreamers. This outcome would sap progressive enthusiasm by promoting the narrative that Democrats don’t know how to fight and win – especially for people of color – so why bother turning out to vote for them.
4. The fundamentals – public opinion, leverage and shutdown politics – all favor the Democrats. As the parties engage in hand-to-hand tactical battles to position for leverage, the fundamentals can be obscured. First, polls show that more than 8 out of 10 Americans want Dreamers to remain in America, including 9 out of 10 Democrats and 2 out of 3 Republicans; the only place Dreamer relief is controversial is among Republicans in Congress. Moreover, the President’s approval ratings – the lowest in the history of polling at this point in a presidency – make him more of a liability than an asset heading into an election year. Second, Democrats have leverage to use for a deal. If they hang together and stay strong, they cannot lose. Third, if Republicans proceed on a partisan basis that ends up in a shutdown, it will be the first time in American history that a government under unified control shuts itself down, a move that would be enormously unpopular with voters from across the spectrum.
Yes, Doug Jones ran as an unapologetic progressive and strongly supported the Dream Act as a candidate. But, that’s not the main reason his election boosts the odds for passage of the Dream Act. The main factors are that it is in the interest of Democrats to stand up for progressive priorities, of which the Dream Act is one; it is in the interest of vulnerable Republicans to stand up for Dreamer relief now, if they want to separate themselves from a toxic brand and president; and it is in the interest of Democrats to issue a powerful signal to voters that turning out in 2018 is worth it.