Jones Elex Party

Doug Jones won the Alabama Senate election Tuesday, Dec. 12, defeating Republican candidate Roy Moore to become the first Democrat to win a statewide election since the 1990s.

Conventional wisdom said the Philadelphia Eagles barely had a chance to beat the New England Patriots in Sunday’s Super Bowl 52. This view had less to do with the Eagles and more to do with the dominant Patriots and their superstar quarterback, Tom Brady.

Getting to the Super Bowl means you are good. Getting past Brady and the Patriots means, well, you have to be great. For those who missed it, the Eagles were great in winning Sunday, 41-33.

The Eagles offer a lesson in competing regardless of the odds against you.

We saw much the same in December when Doug Jones, a Democrat from Birmingham, defeated Republican Roy Moore in a special U.S. Senate race. When Jones initially qualified to run for the race to fill out Jeff Sessions’ unexpired Senate term, the odds against him were pretty unfriendly. Alabama hadn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate in more than 20 years.

The instances of Democrats winning statewide elections here over the past two decades are rare. Given this difficult math, many Democratic politicians prefer to stay on the sidelines instead of risking a drubbing at the hands of a Republican candidate.

Jones’ surprising victory shows why it’s folly to make easy assumptions that a state, a legislative district or city or a seat on a local governmental body is the sole property of one party or the other. You can’t win if you don’t compete.

Yet, the evidence heading into the final week of qualifying for Alabama’s 2018 elections is that Democrats in many state House and state Senate districts aren’t willing to take the field for competition. Democrats have filed to run in about 31 percent of state Senate races and about 37 percent of state House races.

In most cases, the seats left unchallenged thus far by Republicans are the ones that typically favor Democrats. That’s a shame, as well.

This failure to challenge is a bug in our political system. All candidates, regardless of party, deserve an opponent, someone who will present different ideas, challenge easy assumptions of their rival and offer voters an alternative. This exchange, done civilly and free of dramatics, works as a lubricant for the gears of democracy. Without it, a sole candidate on the ballot has little incentive to offer ideas beyond trite cliches.