In baseball, momentum is the next day's starting pitcher. At least that’s how the Baltimore Orioles’ Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver once described the term.
Weaver’s words also provide solid advice for how we should view the results of Tuesday’s U.S. Senate race in Alabama.
The election was a significant, even historic, victory for Democrat Doug Jones, who defeated Republican Ray Moore in a campaign that captured the nation’s attention. But just as a big win on the baseball diamond does not guarantee a victory the next day, we should be cautious about reading too much into Jones’ victory.
Jones and Moore squared off in a special election to fill the Senate seat that Jeff Sessions vacated when he became Attorney General in the Trump administration. By their nature, special elections differ from general elections. U.S. Senators usually are elected in general elections, so about a third of the nation’s 100 Senate seats are on the ballot every other year. Campaign contributions, political consultants and media attention are spread out over those 33 separate elections.
In a special election, all of the focus is on a single election. Candidates receive more fiscal and personnel support from national organizations and outside parties than they would in a general election. So a victory in a special elections does not necessarily provide a blueprint for successful campaigns.
What then can we learn from the Jones-Moore campaign? Here are a few of my takeaways:
A Nation Divided: The tone of the race underscored the deep – and increasingly bitter – division in our nation between those with ideological differences. The depth of the divide was evident in the election maps the networks used as they tracked the election results Tuesday evening. Like most states, Alabama has blue and red counties. There was no suspense about which candidate would win which counties, but the generally large margins of victory in each county showed little middle ground.
A Campaign with No Issues: Allegations of sexual improprieties by Moore dominated the race and the news coverage. We learned plenty about the accusations and Moore’s denials, but little about where he and Jones stood on the major issues confronting Alabama and the nation. This is a troubling pattern resulting in part from the pressure on news companies to attract viewers and readers, but also from voters who are more interested in shiny objects than stories of substance.
No One-Hit Wonders: Joe Trippi made his mark on politics in 2004 as the mastermind who developed innovative methods of using the Internet (which was then in its infancy) to put Howard Dean on the map for the Democratic Party primaries. Trippi laid the groundwork for the massive online efforts that are integral to today’s campaigns. Since 2004, he has had a successful but more low profile career. He is back in the spotlight again for the work he did on the Jones campaign, receiving accolades for the commercials he created for the race.
The Power of the Press: Moore was cruising to victory in a Republican state until the Washington Post reported that four women had accused him of sexual misconduct or impropriety. All four women spoke on record. The report also was based on information from corroborating witnesses and a total of 30 sources. One of the most important roles of the media in a democracy is to hold the powerful accountable. If the Post had not held Moore accountable, it might be him – not Jones – taking the oath office for the U.S. Senate next month.