Political operatives across the nation still are struggling to process what Democrat Doug Jones’ surprise victory over Roy Moore in the highly contested Alabama special Senate election means for politics in the South.
Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said she believes Jones’ victory is a sign that the end of one party’s “cult-like hold” is in sight for Alabama, and that Georgia isn’t far behind.
Speaking on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Political Rewind” talk show, on which she is a fairly regular guest, Mayor Tomlinson pointed to Moore’s loss as an example of how voters in traditionally Republican-dominated states and regions have an appetite for change which is underestimated by pollsters and pundits.
She spoke on a panel of guests which included Jim Galloway, political writer for the AJC, Republican strategist Heath Garrett and Michael Owns, Cobb County Democratic Party chairman.
“There’s been interesting dialogue over the last many years that Georgia was never as red as some people thought it was,” she said on the show. “What few consultants have realized … is we have this very large Black Belt that runs through the state of Georgia. It spans through Columbus, Ga., which is deeply blue, through Macon, Augusta, (and) Athens is in there as well.”
Tomlinson said appealing to these smaller enclaves of voters rather than simply focusing on major urban centers is a viable strategy for Democrats.
“You have the opportunity to think about the state of Georgia by certainly maximizing turnout in your urban areas where you have a high volume of voters, but also edging off some of these rural red states by maximizing your vote in the Black Belt, and that’s exactly what they did in Alabama.”
The Black Belt is a regional term for a wide swath of land that extends through the South. Its boundaries are undefined, but it usually means an area of rich, fertile soil found across Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and central Georgia, and then north into the Carolinas.
Tomlinson took pains to point out she was speaking about the region, not strictly the color of people’s skin, though the the African American population in the area remains higher than the rest of the South.
“There are a lot of African American voters, but the point is, a lot of time people say ‘rural America,’ ‘rural Alabama,’ and we assume that it’s white. But (it means) agricultural communities, and there are large minority voters absolutely, but there’s just a lot of folks who think certain ways about what government’s role is,” the mayor said.
Minority voters largely are thought to have been the ones who propelled Jones to victory over Moore. According to the Washington Post, Jones received the support of 96 percent of African Americans who voted, though he also made strong gains with white college-educated women. African-Americans made up about 30 percent of those who voted, higher than the turnout for the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
Moore was a unique candidate, and his was a unique campaign as well. Moore has been a polarizing figure in Alabama for decades and thrust the state into the national spotlight twice for defying federal court orders — once for refusing to remove a monument showcasing the Ten Commandments, and again for instructing state judges to refuse to enforce the 2015 Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Both times, he was removed from the bench.
A few weeks before the election, reporting by the Washington Post alleged he had solicited dates with underage girls while in his 30s. Moore denied the claims, but was urged to back out of the race by many Republican leaders. The Republican National Committee pulled funding to Moore’s campaign, but eventually restored it in December after he refused to step down. President Donald Trump also gave Moore a full-throated endorsement in December.
Mayor Tomlinson said on the show she realized Moore was a unique figure, but his loss holds lessons for the rest of the region regardless.
“I do believe that Roy Moore is a caricature of the extremist elements of the conservative movement,” Tomlinson said. “But he is a caricature for a reason. There are some elements that do go beyond the Roy Moore persona. Once Alabama has now gone Democrat in this particular election, it breaks the cult-like hold the Republican Party had on that particular state.”
She added breaking that hold was important not purely for getting Democrats in office, but to ensure a stronger government overall.
“When you have competitive races between strong Democrat and Republican candidates, you are going to have better government. So quit it with this one-party system. Balance and good government, that’s all I’m saying.”