Kelley: Democrats have work to do after election showing

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Alabama Democrats saw disappointing results in Tuesday’s election as the party continues to struggle to gain a foothold after the defeat of former US Senator Doug Jones.

Democratic candidates in statewide races were held Tuesday with about 30% of the vote, down about 10 percentage points from four years ago, in an election notorious for low turnout and a lack of competitive races at the top of the ticket

“We need to debrief, regroup and rally our troops. So we’re going to strategize and go from here,” Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Randy Kelley said in a phone interview. “I’m still optimistic, although disappointed that our candidates didn’t win. We had some wonderful people running… But on the other hand, we have some homework to do.”

Turnout on Tuesday was estimated at 38.5%, according to unofficial figures.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Yolanda Flowers, who garnered just 29% of the vote against Republican Gov. Kay Ivey after an ill-funded, tight campaign, said many voters failed to recognize her status as the first black woman to win a major party’s nomination for the election got office in Alabama. Speaking to a small gathering of supporters on election night, she told reporters that some of the culprits lay with the Alabama Democratic Party.

“My team, they informed me that it was hurt,” said Flowers, a longtime educator and political neophyte who frequently mentioned her Christian faith. “I was not recognized as a candidate, as a representative of the state or the party.”

Flowers said she has received donations from some local pro-democracy groups, but her only real support from the state organization is through contact with its vice chair, Tabitha Isner. Describing both the Democratic and Republican parties as “messed up,” Flowers said she plans to run for governor again in four years and will not do anything differently. Its primary purpose, she said, is to “keep God on top.”

The party is in a power struggle in recent years, as well as recent internal squabbles. Kelley this week sent party leaders a memo accusing Isner of overstepping her role. The Alabama Democratic Party’s Twitter account has been silent since August, when leadership changed hands. The party’s Youth Caucus tweeted this week, “The Alabama Democratic Party leadership is struggling like two-year-olds.”

The Deep South was once the solid South of the Democratic Party. But Alabama and other Southern states transitioned to Republican control as white Southerners increasingly flocked to the GOP, a trend largely started by the civil rights movement more than 50 years ago.

Beleaguered Alabama Democrats felt heartened by Jones’ victory in 2017 in a special election. But the win didn’t lead to other wins. A list of Democratic candidates was held to about 40% of the vote in 2018. Jones was defeated in 2020.

The Democrats were able to turn over a seat in parliament on Tuesday for the first time since 2010. Attorney Phillip Ensle r defeated Republican incumbent Charlotte Meadows to win the Montgomery House seat. However, that victory was tempered by the loss of longtime Democratic incumbent Dexter Grimsley to Republican challenger Rick Rehm in a southeast Alabama county. Both victories were aided by changes to district lines during the recent redistricting process. The Democrats’ hopes for more seats in parliament were not fulfilled.

Lisa Ward, who unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Republican Sen. Gerald Allen for the district, which includes both the University of Alabama and rural western Alabama, said she remains optimistic. “They can’t give up because they say it’s a red condition,” Ward said.

She said she ran to raise awareness for rural Alabama, and she said those in need don’t care about the party’s internal squabbling. “All they know is their water is brown and they can’t pay rent and their food tax is too high,” Ward said.

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