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10 Thoughts After the Alabama Senate Election

One of the best parts about covering elections is that there is always a result. After all the prognosticating, projecting, discussing and arguing, there’s a winner. But determining the true meaning of victory and loss can be difficult.

There will be plenty of time to analyze the Alabama Senate special election (at least until the next special election on March 13 in Pennsylvania’s 18th District), but here are some initial postelection thoughts:

This was a historic victory for Doug Jones. Of course, Roy Moore had some unparalleled flaws as a candidate, but Jones overcame a 20-point deficit in partisan performance to win. The last Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama was Sen. Richard C. Shelby in 1992, and he’s now the state’s senior senator as a Republican. Tonight’s upset will be talked about for years to come.

The seat is more important than being a bellwether. In the short term, Jones’ victory narrows the Republican majority, making it more difficult to pass legislation next year. In the longer term, it puts Democrats one seat closer to the majority in 2019. It was also the most difficult seat of the three-seat gain Democrats need, considering the party has better takeover opportunities in Nevada and Arizona next year. They still have to run the table for a majority, but it’s now easier with the special election victory in Alabama.

Watch: Inside Doug Jones’ Election Party as Race is Called

Republicans avoid one headache. Jones in the Senate puts Democrats closer to the majority, but at least Republicans on the Hill will avoid the endless questions about what to do with Roy Moore.

The Republican civil war isn’t over. Moore’s allies, Trump supporters, and Steve Bannon will likely blame the loss on the GOP establishment for abandoning Moore, while anti-Moore Republicans will blame the likes of Bannon for supporting a candidate who was unelectable beyond the primary. The fight for the heart and soul of the GOP isn’t over.

Gotta give Jones and the Democrats credit. Moore and the Republicans did their best to give this race away, but Democrats still needed to run a terrific campaign to overcome the state’s partisan lean. They had to thread multiple needles, including attracting funding from Democrats across the country without giving the appearance of a nationalized race.

It’s not impossible for a Democrat to win a state that Trump carried by nearly 30 points, but boy, did it take a lot. Democrats won’t have the luxury of running against an alleged child molester in races around the country, but the good news for the party is that they don’t have to win in many areas as Republican as Alabama to win majorities in the House and Senate. The two candidates who have to pull off similar feats as Jones next year for Democrats to win a majority are Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota (where Trump won by 36 points) and Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia (where Trump won by 42 points). But both of them start from a stronger position than Jones.

The House majority was at risk before Alabama and the House majority is at risk after Alabama. It’s unclear how applicable the Jones victory is to House races given the unique circumstances surrounding Moore as a candidate. But Democrats won’t need to win districts as Republican as Alabama to net the 24 seats necessary for a majority. If they can replicate the turnout of African-American voters, that would boost their prospects in some districts. But that’s still unclear and doesn’t necessarily apply to every race.

It was a good night for the polling average. Neither result should have been a surprise, considering Moore had a narrow 48 percent to 46 percent advantage in the final RealClearPolitics average. But that was much closer to the final outcome than late polling which showed Moore with a 9-point lead (Emerson College) and Jones with a 10-point lead (FOX News).

Overall, a relatively small percentage of Americans vote. Even though turnout was higher than expected, about 35 percent of voting-age Alabamians chose to vote in the most highly-publicized election in the state in recent history.

2018 is going to be a heck of a ride. With dozens of races happening simultaneously and uncertain turnout projections, next year’s midterm elections should be another historic moment with a potential Democratic comeback just two years after humiliating losses.

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Former Congresswomen Share Stories of Harassment

Former congresswoman Mary Bono knows sexual harassment is rampant on Capitol Hill because she experienced it firsthand.

“My first year, first or second year in the Congress, I was accused of having an affair with Newt Gingrich. It was on the front page of the National Enquirer,” she recalled.

She said she “had this little awakening that it existed,” but she said women back then never thought she could change the culture of sexual harassment on the Hill.

“I don’t even think we realized how much we had just accepted it as a culture,” she said.

But now as a backlash against harassment washes over the Hill — and the rest of America — some women who served in Congress over the last four decades spoke to Roll Call about that culture as they knew it.

Watch: Former Congresswomen Reflect on Sexual Harassment Issues

Bono came to Congress in 1998 to replace her husband, then-California Rep. Sonny Bono, who was killed in a skiing accident. The Republican was a 37-year-old mother of two young children.

With women who worked on Capitol Hill stepping forward to share their stories of sexual harassment, Bono said it’s a watershed moment.

Her advice to women considering running for Congress: Make sure you have thick skin.

“However thick it is, it’s still not going to be thick enough, because they are going to get under your skin and they are going to try to get you spinning and get you off your game and hurt you and get people talking,” Bono said. “It’s hard to explain to people what that feels like and what it’s like to endure that.”

She said that because of the culture back then, where women often got picked on, no one took the Gingrich rumor particularly seriously.

“Again, that’s that thick skin thing: Where did that come from and how could it be on the front page of the National Enquirer. Luckily, back then, people didn’t take [the tabloid] seriously, but in this environment, would they?”

Bono said there were “tons” of other incidents.

“My favorite one was somebody wrote a letter to a female colleague of mine and they forged my signature and wrote the letter as if it were from me to her, and in the letter it said that I was in love with her,” she said. “And, so this colleague grabbed me and she said, ‘Mary, did you send me a letter?’ And I’m thinking, ‘What did my staff do?’ I had no idea.”

So she took me to her office, she showed me this letter and I look at it and I start laughing. I’m going, ‘You can’t be serious.’ She goes, ‘Mary, I didn’t know if it was a cry for help.’”

She turned the letter over to Capitol Police, but she never found out who wrote it.

“I actually think in hindsight it’s funny, but you have to warn people again that these are the kinds of things that you would never in a million years think you would have to endure, but people can be that clever to be so devious,” she said.

As members and former members started to come forward with stories of harassment over the last couple months, Bono shared her story of a former member who she wouldn’t identify telling her he tought of her in the shower.

“As a member of Congress, [I] occasionally would have a colleague say something inappropriate to me and I had to call them to the mat for it, say ‘Knock it off,’” she said.

Sexual harassment on Capitol Hill was no secret back then, she said.

“Anybody who says they weren’t aware this was going on is either in denial or they’re lying,” Bono said.

Republican Connie Morella of Maryland, who served from 1987 to 2003, didn’t have any personal experience with harassment, but said staffers were usually the most aware of what went on.

“It probably was rampant and it was probably was that I really didn’t know about it. I think a lot of the information could have come from staff who are open about saying something. Because, you know, you have a staff camaraderie, too, and sometimes they try to protect each other and they know what’s happening in other offices — it’s just amazing,” she said. “I have a feeling that the staff were more cognizant than the members.”

Morella, 86, did have a celebrity one time act flirtatious with one of her staffers.

“I do remember having a star who was testifying on one of my domestic violence issues who wanted to make out with one of my staffers, and that I knew about,” she said.

Morella is still active with politics. She was president of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress from 2012 to 2014, before Democrat Barbara Kennelly of Connecticut, who served as president from 2014 to 2016.

Kennelly, who served from 1982 to 1991, said back in her day, staffers and members thought their only choices were “You have to put up with it or they quit.”

Former Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards of Maryland, who was in Congress from 2008 to 2017, said it should be easier for women to report cases of harassment.

“Especially if it’s a staff person, I would actually encourage the person to go directly to the member. But I do think Congress could actually set up an avenue for that,” she said.

Edwards believes in deferring to the victim and his or her decision of whether to address harassment.

“I think it would just depend on the circumstance. It would also depend on what the allegations are and for that person, whether coming forward would actually induce others to come forward,” she said. “I don’t think that you can make a hard and fast rule under the current operating environment for a particular person. I think it really depends on what their experience is and what [the victim] wants.”

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