MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Political newcomers running as Democrats for U.S. House of Representative seats took the party to task during their concession speeches for lack of support, leadership, and vision.
It’s no secret Alabama Democrats have struggled to find their political footing following the GOP’s shift in power in 2010. With ethics convictions and corruption cases for members of the state’s ruling party, many felt the Democrat’s slate of candidates could use that momentum in the midterm.
Tabitha Isner: Expectation vs. Reality
Tabitha Isner ran against incumbent Martha Roby for House District 2, losing by 24 percent. Tuesday night, Isner gave an emotional concession speech, highlighting the grassroots nature of her campaign.
“We didn’t have support of the national party, zero dollars and zero cents,” said Isner. “We didn’t have support of the state party. What state party?”
Wednesday Isner said there was a level of expectation of support from the party, based on her experience with races in other states.
“I’ve lived in other places where state parties do more for their candidates,” Isner explained. “It’s the norm that the state party would provide support whether that’s money, advice, access to vote building database software, there’s a wide variety of things support could look like.”
Isner cited the lack of county-level infrastructure as a significant uphill battle for her campaign.
“Having the infrastructure is so critical, my district is 10,000 sq. miles,” said Isner. “To try to organize it as one person, to build relationships in 15 counties, is difficult.”
Isner also witnessed what she described as a state-wide culture that assumed Republicans were the main feature and Democrats as a forgotten party. She believes that culture permeated in her campaign as she received late invitations to events, and largely in other campaigns as the all-out refusal to debate.
“A Chamber held a candidate forum, it had a clear Republican bias,” Isner explained. “I wasn’t notified it was happening until before it happened, my table in the display area was set aside away from the other candidates.”
Mallory Hagan: Expectation vs. Reality
Mallory Hagan ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, 3rd Congressional District against incumbent Mike Rogers. Hagan called the Democratic Party leadership out by name.
“There are people in the Democratic Party who say they are fighting for you, who said they standing up for you, who say they care about you and your communities, yet they [expletive] on Democratic candidates left and right,” said Hagan. “I don’t see another person who ran tonight running again, as long as Nancy Worley, Joe Reed, and Randy Kelley are in charge of our party.”
Hagan’s campaign created a voter protection committee in mid-October after learning more than 50,000 people were purged from the voter rolls in Alabama.
Hagan’s campaign manager Jacob Ray told WSFA 12 News they took those concerns to State Democratic Party Chair, Nancy Worley, who discouraged the campaign from moving forward with the claims.
“If you’re an American, and you’re a Democrat then you’re conscious of the struggle that African-Americans went through to get the right to vote,” said Ray.
Alabama Democratic Party responds to criticism
Worley spoke to WSFA 12 News by phone late Wednesday afternoon, calling Hagan and Isner’s actions well-intentioned.
“Maybe they thought the party was supposed to do everything for them and fund their campaigns, that’s just not how politics work in Alabama”, said Worley.
As for national funding, Worley said the DCCC targeted races where Democrats could flip a House seat, stating Alabama didn’t make the cut.
Isner said she was unsure what funding she may receive from the state or national party, nor did she expect the state to run her campaign. Hagan’s campaign said they didn’t need the state’s money, citing they had more employees on staff than the state party office.
Worley explained the party brought in someone from the Federal Election Commission for federal campaign finance training and held get out the vote rallies, however some candidates did not participate nor took her advice on various topics.
“I don’t believe either of those candidates understood what was expected from a candidate, or what they should expect from the party,” said Worley.
Worley admitted the lack of infrastructure on the county level is spotty at best, stating some counties are well-organized, while others are not.
“We tried to promote all our candidates, not only with every single event, but we ran television ads, we ran targeted ads to get out the vote, we tried to be as supportive as possible,” she said.
Worley noted that she lost her first political race, and that’s where she learned the most. She feels this election was a learning experience for many first-time candidates.
“Some of our candidates chose to ignore the black voters in this election, that is a very wrong-headed decision on the part of a Democrat,” she explained.
Dr. Joe Reed with the Alabama Democratic Conference sharply criticized Hagan’s comments, stating her campaign was ‘DOA’ from the beginning.
“She doesn’t know what she is talking about,” said Reed. “She doesn’t know anything about the party, she just ran for office and her ambitions exceeded her ability to run an executive campaign."
While Worley said she has never closed the door on a candidate, Reed said he wouldn’t let this event slip from the memories of Democrats should Hagan return to the ticket.
“Public service is a noble calling, politics is good, but she’s playing ‘politricks’, and that’s bad,” he stated.
Hagan’s campaign plans to beat Reed to that opportunity. While Ray wouldn’t cite specifics, he promised the campaign was determined to change the course for this party.
“Mallory is a Democrat through and through,” Ray stated. “We’re in it to represent the beliefs of what we hold dear as Democrats and we are going to remove all obstacles in our way…stay tuned, we aren’t done.”
Hagan’s campaign is working to do what Senator Doug Jones attempted to execute in August: install new party leadership.
Democrats had been obliterated from statewide office until Jones was elected to Congress in late 2017.
Jones nominated Montgomery Attorney Peck Fox for party chairman, but the executive committee voted to keep Worley as the leader.
“It’s no secret that my campaign lacked support and resources from the state party, which unfortunately seems to also be the case for this year’s races," Jones told WSFA 12 News in a written statement. "There is no support, no infrastructure and no leadership with the vision to move the state forward and that has to change. Despite that, we’ve fielded strong candidates across Alabama who ran proactive campaigns on a foundation of grassroots energy and support. Talented Alabama Democrats are stepping up to serve at a rate we haven’t seen in a generation—even without the party infrastructure behind them—because they care deeply about the future of Alabama.”
You can find a list of state and local election results here.