Of the myriad prognosticators of American elections, the number-crunchers at FiveThirtyEight.com are the best. Perfection is rare, but they’re darn good. And what follows are their chance-of-winning predictions for Alabama’s seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives:
-- Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, 1st District: 99.9 percent.
-- Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, 2nd District: 97.8 percent.
-- Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, 3rd District: 99.8 percent.
-- Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, 4th District: 99.9 percent.
-- Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, 5th District: 99.8 percent.
-- Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Birmingham, 6th District: 99.9 percent.
-- Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, 7th District: 99.9 percent.
In other words, November’s election may swing control of the U.S. House to the Democrats — FiveThirtyEight says Democrats have a 7 in 10 chance of taking the lower chamber — but the election is almost assured to produce no modifications to Alabama’s delegation. Same old, same old. Our state’s return to one-sided politics creates suspense in the party primaries but not the general election. Roby, remember, had to fend off Democrat-turned-Republican Bobby Bright in a 2nd District runoff. Barring an unexpected upset or earth-shattering developments — read: the sexual-misconduct allegations against former Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore — Alabama Democratic candidates for Congress are severe underdogs against their GOP opponents.
Alabama, as often is the case, is an outlier. Republicans in the South, writes FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, “face pressure because of demographic change in states such as Georgia and Virginia — and increasingly in Texas.” But not in Alabama. Silver also writes that “the issue for Republicans is that the incumbency advantage has been weakening over time — and it appears to be especially flimsy this year.” Alabama, where House Republicans’ chances for winning are hardly flimsy, must give statisticians like Silver fits.
What’s striking about FiveThirtyEight’s predictions isn’t the incumbent sweep; it’s the nearly 100 percent chance of winning given to all seven House members. Broken down, those lofty numbers mean different things to Alabama’s Democrats and Alabama’s Republicans.
We’ll start with the obvious: The desolation of Alabama’s Democratic Party is on full display. Mallory Hagan, Rogers’ Democratic opponent in the 3rd District, has potential but is inexperienced in national politics. U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Birmingham, the heralded former U.S. attorney who defeated Moore in December’s special Senate election, is arguably the party’s best congressional candidate in several cycles. But the fact remains that the state’s fractured Democratic leadership hasn’t been able to foster a lineup of electable candidates with a snowball’s chance in Republican-dominated Alabama.
That’s what should bother Alabama Democrats — not that FiveThirtyEight projects all six Republican House members to sweep to re-election. It’s that FiveThirtyEight believes their Democratic opponents will get slaughtered on Nov. 6.
Alabama’s House Republicans, meanwhile, face a choice. They can exist mainly to seek re-election every two years, or they can speak with the voice of incumbents who lead more than follow. We’ll be blunt: Many Alabamians care about their representatives’ opinions of President Trump’s border-wall proposal or his reprehensible comments about the media, but they shouldn’t. Instead, Alabamians should focus on what the representatives they send to Washington do to make our state better than it is today.