Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Alabama Senate race highlights urban-rural divide, other divisions of politics and culture

UPDATE: Jones won, in "nothing short of a political earthquake for Alabama," The Anniston Star reports, noting that the state "has trended ever more strongly toward Republicans since the 1960s."

Moore in Midland City (Photo: Luke Sharrett, Bloomberg)
Today's special election for a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama is the latest example of the urban and rural divide in American politics. Even the candidates' Election Eve events bore it out: Democrat Doug Jones held his bash in the state's biggest city, Birmingham. Republican Roy Moore held his event in a barn in the small town of Midland City, in the Wiregrass region of rural southeast Alabama, which is the ninth most rural state, with 41 percent of the population living in rural areas.

The settings "evoked the cultural and political divide that’s come to define the two parties in modern America," Arit John reports for Bloomberg. The race will likely be decided "along the urban-rural lines that played a major role in last year’s presidential election and the votes are being cast amid shifting attitudes about sexual misconduct, intense partisanship and deep anti-establishment resentment in parts of the electorate." That narrative has been accentuated since President Trump stepped into the fray and stumped for Moore.

Many view the race as a lot more than one race between two candidates. The national parties (and most onlookers) see the race as a possible indicator for how the winds will blow in the 2018 midterm elections, especially since rural voters were critical to President Trump's success.

Doug Jones (Photo: Birmingham Times)
The race could also be seen as a test of the power of partisanship and tribalism. Moore has been deviled by accusations of sexually harassing and assaulting teenage girls when he was in his 30s, as revealed by The Washington Post. And most Republican senators refused to endorse Moore. But the pull of party is strong in a state where no Democrat has been elected to a statewide position in more than a decade and Moore is a folk hero to many for his jousts with judicial authorities as a judge. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon emphasized the importance of keeping the seat in Republican hands when he campaigned for Moore. "They want to destroy Judge Roy Moore and they want to take your voice away," Bannon said at a recent rally in Fairhope.

The race could also be construed as a referendum on the way rural residents view the news media. Many Alabama Republicans view the accusations against Moore to be a liberal hit job. Bannon, a vocal ally of Moore, said Moore is the victim of an orchestrated conspiracy between the mainstream media and establishment Republicans.

And finally, many view the race as an indicator of how seriously people are willing to take survivors of sexual harassment and assault. As we have reported, victims in rural areas may face additional obstacles because of limited access to support and resources.

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