The Partisan Divide Isn’t That Wide Between Alabama’s Two US Senators, Though It Still Is a Canyon Among House Members


The U.S. Senate chamber


By Glenn Stephens

Although they differ on many high-profile issues, Alabama’s two U.S. senators voted together about half the time on key issues during 2019.

Republican Richard Shelby, who has served in the Senate for 31 years, and freshman Democrat Doug Jones have voted together 11 times and on opposite sides on 10 occasions this year, according to weekly reports compiled by Voterama in Congress for BirminghamWatch.

The two have parted ways, however, over many of President Trump’s nominations for federal judgeships, cabinet posts and other positions, according to weekly reports by Voterama. Jones voted to confirm five of the president’s nominees and against nine. Shelby voted for all 14.

Jones is campaigning for election to his first full term in the Senate in the November 2020 general election. He defeated former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in a bitterly contested special election in December 2017 to fill the vacancy left when Jeff Sessions resigned as senator to become attorney general. Luther Strange held the position on an interim basis pending the special election but lost to Moore in a Republican runoff.

A former U.S. attorney, Jones is regarded as the most vulnerable Senate incumbent facing election next year. No other Democrats have stepped up to challenge Jones for the party’s nomination; as many as eight Republicans have expressed interest in seeking the GOP nomination.

Republicans have portrayed Jones, who represents a state where Trump got 62 percent of the votes in 2016, as a liberal Democrat who is out of step with the voters of Alabama. Jones maintains that he will do what’s right for Alabama, regardless of partisan politics.

Mike House, a Washington attorney, Alabama native and longtime political insider in the state, said he did not find it surprising that Jones and Shelby often voted alike, though Jones will vote with his party on many issues.

“Doug is a traditional Democrat on certain issues, and he’s going to vote that way, he’s going to vote with the party,” House said. “That makes it tougher; there’s no doubt.

“My sense is that there’s a lot of things they’re going to go after him on. And his attitude is, ‘You have to accept me for what I am, that I am a strong advocate for the state.’”

House said Jones will again have strong support among blacks, but the suburban vote could be the deciding factor in the Senate race.

“The Democratic nominee for president will have the most significant effect on the suburban vote that Doug got in the last race. That’s a big factor in this election. If suburban voters do not like the Democratic nominee, the question is do they stay home, or do they just vote a straight ticket with Trump. It’s hard to overcome straight-ticket voting.”

Partisan Divide in the House

While Shelby and Jones often vote together, the partisan divide was stark among the six Republicans and one Democrat from Alabama in the House of Representatives.

In 61 of 74 votes listed by Voterama this year, the entire delegation voted the same only five times. They split along party lines on 61 votes.

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