It doesn’t really matter which Republican candidate takes on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in November 2020, as long as is isn’t Roy Moore.
If the GOP can avoid a candidate with the kind of baggage Moore had, Jones seems destined to lose his bid to win a full term representing Alabama in the Senate. Jones is the most vulnerable Senate Democrat facing re-election in 2020, and most think he's as good as gone.
“I don’t think Jones has much chance at all of holding on to his seat next year,” political analyst Stuart Rothenberg recently wrote. “Simply put, his special election was a fluke not likely to be repeated.”
The real fight will be among the Republican candidates who will soon battle over the chance to face off against Jones on the general election ballot. Rep. Bradley Byrne, who has represented the state’s 1st Congressional District since 2013, formally entered the race on Wednesday, and others Republicans are expected to jump in ahead of the March 2020 primary.
The party is eager to reclaim the seat.
Jones became the first Democrat in Alabama to win election to the Senate in 25 years after defeating Moore, a former judge who drew national attention for posting the Ten Commandments in his courtroom. Moore’s campaign suffered a fatal blow when he was accused of several instances of sexual misconduct with minors that occurred decades earlier.
Jones’ win was stunning, but it was narrow: He defeated Moore by a tiny 1.6 percent margin. Compared to a typical election, five times as many voters chose to write in a candidate rather than pick Jones over Moore.
While Jones’ narrow win excited Alabama Democrats, they have failed to build on the success when it comes to winning statewide races.
In November, the three Democratic candidates who ran for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general all lost to their Republican opponents and the GOP increased its supermajority in the Alabama statehouse.
“Frankly, Jones won because of who his opponent was,” Alabama political consultant David Mowery told the Washington Examiner.
Mowery said he believes Jones cannot win again in 2020 unless a GOP candidate with serious character flaws ends up on the ballot.
“It would have to be Roy Moore level or worse,” Mowery said.
Jones’ Senate voting record isn’t likely to win over Republican voters, who voted for President Trump by a margin of 62 percent to 34 percent over Hillary Clinton.
Jones has defied an early expectation that he would cross the aisle often to vote with Republicans on critical red-state priorities. Jones voted against Justice Brett Kavanaugh, for example, and against an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood.
“He’s staking his ability to get re-elected on the fact that he’s going to vote on what he thinks is right and not on what the people he represents want him to do,” Mowery said. “That’s out of step with the average Alabamian.”
But incumbents tend to have a built-in advantage with voters and not all political analysts are guaranteeing a GOP victory. The Cook Political Report is poised to move the race to "toss-up," but not "lean Republican."
The University of Virginia's Larry Sabato rates the race as a toss-up, but admitted "that probably is being kind to Jones."
Republicans eager to regain the Senate seat must first get past what could become a contentious GOP primary.
A political fight within the GOP is already simmering. In addition to Byrne, state Senate President Carl “Del” Marsh is expected to jump into the race and Rep. Gary Palmer, who represents the 6th Congressional District, may also run.
The conservative group Club for Growth appears to be opposing Byrne and backing the undeclared Palmer.
Byrne, they said, is “not a conservative” and loses by a wide margin in a poll they conducted of 500 likely Republican primary voters in a matchup against Palmer.
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