The Alabama Democratic Party, a weak political creature overwhelmed by its majority colleague, lost every statewide election last year. Every single one -- even with qualified candidates in a handful of races. U.S. Sen. Doug Jones is the only Alabama Democrat to hold statewide office; his grip on that office for 2020 is tenuous, at best. And party leaders in Alabama are, let’s kindly say, less than impressive.
Yet, a word of caution: Don’t overestimate this month’s order from the Democratic National Committee’s credentials committee that Alabama Democrats have 90 days to re-do last year’s leadership elections.
Yes, those elections -- in execution and result -- were disappointing.
Yes, Nancy Worley’s tumultuous reign as head of the state party needs to end.
But, no, not even new leadership guarantees a rebirth of the Alabama Democratic Party and its chances of returning two-party politics to our state.
It is, though, a start. A chance. An opening. And that is a rare positive sign for a Deep South political party that has spent recent years in varying stages of disarray and dysfunction. That turmoil has stunted the party’s ability to cultivate candidates who can win in competitive races. What’s more, results matter. And last year, Alabama Democrats in statewide elections were, in baseball terms, 0 for The Entire Year.
Recall the most vivid example of that dysfunction -- 3rd Congressional District candidate Mallory Hagan’s Election Night tirade against state party leadership that she and other Democratic candidates said didn’t offer adequate support and wanted low-funded campaigns to pay handsomely for the support they wanted. To Joe Reed, head of the State Democratic Executive Committee, it takes money for Alabama Democratic leadership to get people to the polls, and candidates have to pay their share. Those who didn’t received little help.
“My heart is beating very fast because I have to tell you that the challenge in the state of Alabama is not the Republican Party,” said Hagan, of Opelika, who lost decisively to U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks. “It is the Democratic Party. I told you that I would fight for you and I will continue to do so because there are people who are in control of the Democratic Party who do not have your best interests at heart.”
Worley and Reed disagreed, just as they did last summer when critics charged that party and committee leadership had broken election rules and fudged on diversity requirements that favored Reed’s favored candidates. Jones served as the most high-profile Alabama Democrat to campaign for attorney Peck Fox, who still lost, 101-89, to Worley.
That’s why the National Democratic Committee is forcing a new election. It’s time.
“It’s about where we are today as a Democratic Party in the state of Alabama, and I can tell you we are at rock bottom. Period,” Jones said at the time.
The Alabama Democratic Party didn’t hit rock bottom overnight, and neither will its rebirth be instantaneous, should it happen. But wouldn’t Alabama politics be interesting if both parties nominated worthy candidates who campaigned on equal grounds? Yes, it would.