Democrats locally and nationally should not be quick to discern a political sea change in Tuesday night’s Alabama U.S. Senate election, current and former leaders of Palm Beach County’s Republican Party said Wednesday.
In the vote to replace U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. Attorney General, in what traditionally is a deep-red southern state, Democratic candidate Doug Jones narrowly defeated former state Supreme Court justice Roy Moore.
Jones had obtained convictions decades after the fact in the infamous 1963 Birmingham, Ala., church bombing that killed four children.
Moore had taken outspokenly conservative social and religious stances and was saddled by allegations that he’d pursued girls as young as age 14 decades earlier when he was a man in his 30s.
The uproar over Moore’s alleged past is part of a recent surge of women coming forward to detail cases of sexual harassment and even assaults, bringing down icons of journalism, Hollywood and politics, and has again turned the spotlight on previously reported allegations against President Donald Trump, a part-time Palm Beach resident.
Moore “was a candidate that people didn’t like,” current local GOP chairman Michael Barnett said. “It was mostly a referendum on the character of Moore himself, not on the president or the Republican Party.”
He also said Trump had the right idea when he initially backed Luther Strange, who lost to Moore in the state’s GOP primary.
“It’s a shame when you have a candidate that these kinds of allegations against him at the 11th hour,” Barnett said.
He said the fact that Moore still nearly won should not be lost on Democrats. He also said Alabamans will expect Jones to move to the center or even center right.
“He certainly won’t be a liberal Democrat,” Barnett said.
“Horrible candidate,” said Anita Mitchell, who led the local GOP from 2013 to 2014. “He was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t.”
She said she doesn’t expect this to derail the GOP in Florida, especially in upcoming races for governor and U.S. Senate, as long as Republicans “do the right things, governance-wise, and not carry his (Moore’s) baggage.”
Democrats, she said, “are going to demagogue the hell out of it. If we’re (Republicans) smart, we’ll keep the family together and stop bickering.”
She added, “You’ve got to have a good message. You have to be willing to be nimble and appeal to the voter. And then we get elected. I believe we have the right ingredients. We just have to execute.”
Sid Dinerstein, Palm Beach County chairman from 2002 to 2012, scoffed at the idea that state and local GOP candidates in Florida will suffer from the Alabama election.
“Are you kidding?” he said.
Dinerstein insisted Republicans are getting more in financial donations for Florida’s upcoming gubernatorial and senatorial races than Democrats.
“The Democrats should enjoy the night that they had. They haven’t had too many good ones,” he said. “We’re (Republicans) doing just fine, thank you.”
James Todd, assistant professor of politics at Palm Beach Atlantic University, spent his life in Alabama until coming to PBAU two years ago, and has met both Moore and Jones. As did the local Republican leaders, the professor said he “would strongly caution against reading too much into this.”
He said of Tuesday’s vote, “Moore was kind of uniquely positioned to lose.”
Todd added it’s too early to tell whether there’s a change afoot that would affect upcoming U.S. Senate races, and that Republicans nationwide might well benefit benefited by Moore’s leaving the political stage.
In Florida, for example, Gov. Rick Scott, the likely GOP challenger to Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, has a strong profile on his own but “would have had to answer for Moore,” Todd said, had Moore been in the Senate at the time of the election.