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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 5:38 am | Fair 42º


Jamie Stiehm: Alabama Election Drama Ends the Right Way

“Sweet home, Alabama.”

The rock ’n’ roll song serenaded a swath of Democrats jubilantly watching the suspenseful Senate election results in Alabama. Doug Jones, a white lawyer, gave his party an early Christmas miracle. As sweet as sweet can be.

President Donald Trump, that’s coal in your stocking. Yes, take it personally. You’ve been bad all year long. The American people are none too fond of you, down to a 32 percent approval rating.

The Senate is now 51-49, with Republicans holding a slender edge.

This is how far Trump fell: Deep South voters didn’t just obey his shouted orders to vote for Republican Roy Moore, a candidate accused of preying on underage girls. Moore ran into the headwinds of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment.

No problem. Trump had no shame stumping for Moore, a volatile figure within Alabama. He opposed gay marriage and got removed from the state Supreme Court twice. An archconservative Bible-thumper, Moore was still seen as the probable next senator from red Alabama, which had not elected a Democratic senator since the 20th century.

Yet I felt the unexpected could happen. Jones is a class act who quietly grew on you — and voters — through a contest for his state’s soul. I felt a curious optimism that Jones, who prosecuted two Ku Klux Klan men for a tragic Baptist church bombing, would be the perfect foil for Moore.

Four black Sunday schoolgirls died in that Birmingham bombing, a heartbreaking event in 1963 that Jones helped lay to rest in a landmark civil rights cold case.

Get your To Kill a Mockingbird out. Jones calls up Atticus Finch, the Alabama country lawyer who wins a racial courtroom drama. When the guilty verdict came in and the Klansmen were finally brought to justice, Jones wept along with the victims’ families.

This story tells why Jones swept the black electorate, which was beyond motivated. Turnout was high for a special election and Jones was lifted to victory by excited African-American voters, seeking a moral victory.

My mother, a political scientist, told me black turnout is often low in Alabama and neighboring states, because they feel shut out of the system. Not that Tuesday.

In November, a true-blue Southern Democrat beat a Republican lobbyist in the Virginia governor’s race, which makes two out of two Democratic wins in statewide elections — in the South, no less — this year. The summer race riot in Charlottesville, Va., was certainly a factor.

The Old Confederacy is changing colors.

The 70-year-old Moore, a churlish character, refused to concede. His erratic behavior in the last days — dropping out of public sight — fueled concerns about his fitness. Wearing his cowboy hat, he literally rode in on a high horse to the polls to vote. Wrong century, dude.

Not to be overlooked in the combustible mix: Stephen Bannon, who worked for Moore. He still has Trump’s ear despite his expulsion from the White House in August.

Bannon, or Trump’s Trump, prods Trump’s worst hateful instincts. Never have we had a hostile presidential agent — or confederate — openly at war with the party establishment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., gets a heap of abuse from Bannon. Trump lets it happen.

Nobody likes a dysfunctional family, least of all those in it. In this case, Alabama knew the nation’s eyes were watching the family drama writ large.

After the upset, Jones spoke of dignity and the rule of law in his acceptance speech.

“Not because I’m so pretty,” Jones, 63, added in a nice touch.

Modesty is always welcome.

Somehow, Trump tried to be civil to Jones, tweeting congratulations on a “hard fought victory.” He invited the man from Alabama to the White House.

Jones won’t get sworn in soon enough to jeopardize the filthy rich tax bill Republicans are pushing through Congress.

Credit is due to both Alabama Republican senators. Richard Shelby, a former Democrat, declared he wouldn’t vote for Moore, but for a write-in.

Luther Strange, appointed to fill the seat, lost the primary to Moore.

The tall Strange’s eyes twinkled when I asked him whom he voted for. “A Republican,” he said. (But not Moore.)

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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