How 2017's elections gave Democrats a recipe for big midterm wins

Meet Alabama's new Democratic Senator to be
Meet Alabama's new Democratic Senator to be

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Story highlights

  • The party is turning out minority voters in huge numbers
  • It's also winning big with millennials

Montgomery, Alabama (CNN)After decisive victories in this year's Virginia, New Jersey and Alabama statewide elections, Democrats are seeing the emergence of a path forward in the Donald Trump era that could carry the party to control of the House -- and even make the Senate competitive -- in 2018's midterm election.

Doug Jones' triumph over Republican Roy Moore in Alabama's special election for Senate was a once-in-a-generation win for Democrats in a reliably red stronghold.
But the demographic strengths that led to Jones' victory closely mirrored Democrats' successes in Virginia and New Jersey -- an indicator that the party has figured something out beyond the reality that Moore, facing allegations of child molestation and sexual assault, was perhaps the only Republican who could lose a statewide contest in Alabama.
    The party is turning out minority voters in huge numbers. It's also winning big with millennials and -- in a turnaround from 2016 -- has closed its gap with college-educated white voters, particularly women, who are turning out in droves in the suburbs.
    That Democratic base is also much more energized than Trump's coalition of older, blue-collar, white supporters in rural America. One especially stark figure that shows the enthusiasm gap: Jones got 93% of Hillary Clinton's 2016 raw vote total in Alabama on Tuesday, while Moore got just 50% of Trump's raw vote total. That gulf made up for Jones only getting 8% of Republican voters to cross over and support him.
    The Republican crossover votes in Alabama could largely be attributable to distaste for Moore. But the reality that the trends with young, non-white, suburban and college-educated voters in Alabama follow Democrats' success in Virginia and New Jersey suggest they could continue across the map in 2018.
    This is a recipe that Democrats could repeat in House races across the country next year. The party needs to flip 24 Republican-held seats to take control of the chamber -- and is particularly focused on 23 districts with GOP representatives where Clinton won just last year. Many of those are in suburban areas -- including seven in California, largely clustered around Orange County, and several more in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
    It doesn't solve Democrats' problems in some of the 10 states that Trump won where they're trying to hold Senate seats -- particularly places like North Dakota, West Virginia and Missouri.
    But it does mean Republican-held Senate seats in Arizona and Nevada look like riper targets, and states like Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio could be easier to hold.
    More evidence that points to a blue wave that's about to crash into 2018: Monmouth University released a new poll Wednesday that showed 51% of registered voters preferring a Democratic candidate for House and just 36% favoring a Republican.
    That 15-point gap in what's known as the generic congressional ballot is a full-blown disaster for the GOP.
    Republicans have largely tied their fortunes to Trump, but even in deep-red Alabama, exit polls showed his approval rating is just 49% -- and his loud and repeated endorsements were not enough to carry Moore to victory, demonstrating the peril Republicans everywhere face in choosing between risking Trump's ire in a primary and sticking with an unpopular president in a general election.
    The most important factor for Democrats: Non-white turnout is soaring -- and those voters, particularly African-Americans, are overwhelmingly supporting Democratic candidates.
    In Alabama, black voters made up 29% of the electorate in Tuesday's special election, CNN's exit poll found -- a slightly higher share than in 2012, a presidential election year with Barack Obama on the ballot.
    Of those black voters, overwhelming numbers -- 98% of black women, who made up 17% of the electorate, and 93% of black men -- voted for Jones.
    These were similar to the results in Virginia, where 87% of black voters supported Democrat Ralph Northam in the governor's race, and New Jersey, where 94% of black voters backed the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Phil Murphy.
    Another 5% of non-white voters largely backed Jones in Alabama. Overall, in New Jersey, non-white voters were 28% of the electorate and 83% backed Murphy; in Virginia, non-white voters made up 33% of the voter turnout and 80% backed Northam.
    "Black voters showed the way forward for Democrats and progressives nationwide -- as they did in Virginia last November -- highlighting the need to engage black voters as persuasion voters and not take their votes for granted," Adrianne Shropshire, the executive director of BlackPAC, which spent $2.1 million on voter outreach in Alabama, said in a post-election memo.
    "What is extraordinary in this special election is that we observe that the surge in black voter turnout—the difference between baseline expected Black turnout and actual black turnout -- provided Doug Jones's margin of victory," Shropshire said.