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The election last week of a Democrat in ruby-red Alabama to the U.S. Senate suggests to some that political upheaval is coming in 2018.

It certainly buoyed the spirits of Democrats around the country, including here in Arkansas.

But what did that election really mean? That's a question political analysts will be asking for a long time to come.

Some read the results as being less about the Democrat, Doug Jones, than about the Republican he defeated.

Republican Roy Moore was a lousy candidate, flawed even before the allegations surfaced that he had molested a 14-year-old girl years ago.

Alabama Republicans nonetheless made him their nominee. They had to live with him after revelations of his propensity for having dated teenagers when he was much older than the girls.

When the vote finally happened, Jones made history as the first Democratic senator elected in Alabama in more than a quarter century.

It wasn't exactly a landslide. Jones got 50 percent of the vote to Moore's 48 percent. But a win is a win and this one was historic.

Credit Jones for an energetic campaign that found enough support among conservative Alabamans and pulled out Democratic voters, especially African-Americans. Jones was a good candidate who focused on Alabamans and offered a blueprint of sorts for Democratic success in the South.

But Jones doesn't get all the credit for his win.

Credit Moore for Republican votes that went to write-in candidates and for causing some Republicans to stay home. They couldn't stomach Moore but couldn't vote for a Democrat either.

Less clear is the role that President Trump, who strongly endorsed Moore in the later stages of the race, played in all of this.

The president's own unimpressive job performance might been have been a factor for some in Alabama, even though he won handily there in 2016, as it may be in these upcoming 2018 mid-term elections.

So, too, may be that nagging inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 vote, which underlies so much of political unease these days.

Voters are watching the congressional response on both sides of the aisle. What those voters perceive may influence which incumbents stay or go from office.

Whether those are factors or not, the truth is Americans have often chosen divided government and could again.

Predictions certainly suggest control of one or both of the houses of Congress will flip.

The reasons are many, not the least of which is that the party that holds the presidency often loses the majority in mid-term congressional elections.

To be sure, this year's relatively rare situation in which Republicans hold the White House and control both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives hasn't exactly argued for a "unified" government.

Almost a year has passed and the Congress just now enacted the first major legislation of the Trump administration. And it is a tax cut bill that is decidedly unpopular with many Americans, even though few really know its details.

As people learn more about it and as Republican promises for an improved economy either prove out or fail, this tax cut will play into the politics of 2018.

So, too, will Republican decisions impacting the health care of millions of Americans who will lose their insurance.

People who find themselves on the losing end of a new tax policy or access to health care will most likely vote against those they think put them in that position.

But they've still got to be motivated to vote and that's where another truth comes into play.

The elections of 2018 will depend on the candidates the different parties offer. A lot will hinge on the parties' organizations and the intensity of their respective efforts. That's part and parcel of politics. But the quality of the candidates is what should matter most.

Whether they're incumbents or challengers, Democrats or Republicans, candidates absolutely must speak to -- and give voice to -- those whose votes they seek.

And voters should listen to what the candidates say and pay less attention to the political labels they wear.

Commentary on 12/20/2017

Print Headline: Did the tide turn?

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