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Alabama results show that a 2018 wave is building

If you thought Roy Moore’s flaws were the only reason why Republicans lost in Alabama, you haven’t been paying attention to 2017.
Image: Nation Goes To The Polls In Contentious Presidential Election Between Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump
Voters cast their ballots at voting booths at PS198M The Straus School on November 8, 2016 in New York City.Michael Reaves / Getty Images file

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

WASHINGTON — Yes, Roy Moore was a historically flawed candidate, and President Trump stressed that point this morning after Republicans’ defeat in Alabama last night. “The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange … is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the general election. I was right!” he tweeted. (Of course, that fact didn’t stop Trump from backing Moore when other Republicans ran away after the allegations against the Alabama Republican.)

But if you thought Moore’s flaws — and the allegations against him — were the only reason why Republicans lost in Alabama, you haven’t been paying attention to 2017. The seven major races this year have underscored that Democratic voters are fired up, that Republican ones aren’t and that Trump is unpopular, even in red states.

Just look at how Democrats have overperformed from 2016 and previous races in these particular states and congressional districts:

  • KS-4 in 2016: Mike Pompeo 61%, Daniel Giroux 30% (R+31)
  • KS-4 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 60%, Clinton 33% (R+27)
  • KS-4 in 2017: Ron Estes 53%, James Thompson 46% (R+7)
  • GA-6 in 2016: Tom Price 62%, Rodney Stooksbury 38% (R+24)
  • GA-6 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 48%, Clinton 47% (R+1)
  • GA-6 in 2017 (initial round): Jon Ossoff 48%, Karen Handel 20%, Bob Gray 11%, Dan Moody 9%, Judson Hill 9%.
  • GA-6 in 2017 (runoff): Handel 52%, Ossoff 48% (R+4)
  • MT-AL in 2016: Ryan Zinke 56%, Denise Juneau 40% (R+16)
  • MT in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 36% (R+21)
  • MT-AL in 2017: Greg Gianforte 50%, Rob Quist 44% (R+6)
  • SC-5 in 2016: Mick Mulvaney 59%, Fran Person 39% (R+20)
  • SC-5 in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 57%, Clinton 39% (R+18)
  • SC-5 in 2017: Ralph Norman 51%, Archie Parnell 48% (R+3)
  • NJ GOV in 2013: Chris Christie 60%, Barbara Buono 38% (R+22)
  • NJ in 2016 (presidential results): Clinton 55%, Trump 41% (D+14)
  • NJ GOV in 2017: Phil Murphy 56%, Kim Guadagno 42% (D+14)
  • VA GOV in 2013: Terry McAuliffe 48%, Ken Cuccinelli 45% (D+3)
  • VA in 2016 (presidential results): Clinton 50%, Trump 44% (D+6)
  • VA GOV in 2017: Ralph Northam 54%, Ed Gillespie 45% (D+9)
  • AL SEN in 2016: Shelby 64%, Crumpton 36% (R+28)
  • AL in 2016 (presidential results): Trump 62%, Clinton 34% (R+28)
  • AL SEN in 2017: Doug Jones 50%, Roy Moore 48% (D+2)

Then look at Trump’s own numbers in Alabama, according to the exit poll: His approval rating was 48 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove. But more importantly, the intensity was against the president — with 41 percent strongly disapproving, versus 32 percent strongly approving.

And then there was the African-American vote: They made up 29 percent of the electorate (up from 28 percent in 2012 when Barack Obama was the ballot in Alabama), and they broke for Jones by a 96 percent-to-4 percent margin.

This is how a wave happens, and the wave heading in 2018 got bigger and bigger during every contest this year — first in Georgia (which Democrats still lost), then in Virginia last month and then Alabama last night.

It took a lot of GOP mistakes for Democrat Doug Jones to get to 50 percent in Alabama. But here’s the thing: He was probably going to get 44 to 45 percent of the vote against a Luther Strange in this environment.

Ultimately, what took down Roy Moore was a combination of the allegations against him, plus the surge of Democratic voters. And don’t lose sight of the second part of that equation.

Like in Virginia, Democrats overperformed in urban and suburban areas

The other way to look at last night’s turnout in Alabama is by geography. As we saw in Virginia last month, Democrats came out in droves for Jones in urban and suburban counties:

Jefferson County (Birmingham)

  • 2008: 52% for Obama, 47% for McCain (D+5)
  • 2012: 53% for Obama, 47% for Romney (D+6)
  • 2016: 52% for Clinton, 45% for Trump (D+7)
  • 2017: 68% for Jones, 30% for Moore (D+38)

Madison County (Hunstville)

  • 2008: 42% for Obama, 57% for McCain (R+15)
  • 2012: 40% for Obama, 59% for Romney (R+19)
  • 2016: 39% for Clinton, 56% for Trump (R+17)
  • 2017: 57% for Jones, 40% for Moore (D+17)

Mobile County

  • 2008: 45% for Obama, 54% for McCain (R+9)
  • 2012: 45% for Obama, 54% for Romney (R+9)
  • 2016: 42% for Clinton, 56% for Trump (R+14)
  • 2017: 56% for Jones, 42% for Moore (D+14)

Montgomery County

  • 2008: 59% for Obama, 40% for McCain (D+19)
  • 2012: 62% for Obama, 38% for Romney (D+24)
  • 2016: 62% for Clinton, 36% for Trump (D+26)
  • 2017: 72% for Jones, 27% for Moore (D+45)

Shelby County (Birmingham suburbs)

  • 2008: 23% for Obama, 76% for McCain (R+53)
  • 2012: 22% for Obama, 77% for Romney (R+55)
  • 2016: 23% for Clinton, 73% for Trump (R+50)
  • 2017: 42% for Jones, 56% for Moore (R+14)

Tuscaloosa County

  • 2008: 42% for Obama, 58% for McCain (R+16)
  • 2012: 41% for Obama, 58% for Romney (R+17)
  • 2016: 39% for Clinton, 58% for Trump (R+19)
  • 2017: 57% for Jones, 41% for Moore (D+16)

Revisiting the stakes in Alabama after last night’s results

Yesterday, we wrote that the Alabama Senate contest had big stakes in six different categories. Well, let’s revisit them:

  • Control of the Senate: Doug Jones’ win last night reduces the Republican Senate majority from 52-48 to 51-49, giving Democrats a much more realistic chance at retaking the Senate in 2018.
  • Trump’s legislative and judicial-appointment agenda: One fewer Republican vote in the Senate means less margin for error for Trump’s agenda in the Senate. And while this might not affect tax reform – Jones probably won’t be seated for a couple of weeks, at the earliest – it could disrupt all other items on Trump’s to-do list for 2018.
  • President Trump: He went 0-2 in Alabama, first with Luther Strange losing and then with Roy Moore – when other Republicans stepped away.
  • Steve Bannon: Mitch McConnell’s allies are already blaming Bannon for the loss in Alabama. “This is a brutal reminder that candidate quality matters regardless of where you are running,” the McConnell-backed Senate Leadership Fund said last night. “Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the President of the United States into his fiasco.”
  • The perception of the Republican Party: The good news for Republicans is that they won’t have to deal with Moore in the halls of the U.S. Senate. The bad news is that Trump, despite all of the allegations surrounding Moore, still enthusiastically endorsed him.
  • Washington’s sexual harassment story: While a Moore win would have turbocharged this story in Washington – the Senate Ethics Committee would have investigated him from the get-go – we have a strong feeling this entire story isn’t going away anytime soon.