MONTGOMERY — Alabama Democrats' disappointing performance in Tuesday's election has reignited calls for changes within the state party, with critics saying candidates were largely left to fend for themselves despite available party funds.
Democratic candidates were generally held to about 40 percent of the vote in statewide races, crushing hopes that the party could build on last year's election of U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, or at least demonstrate themselves as viable with competitive races.
The losses rekindled long simmering tensions, with several 2018 candidates calling for new leadership or at least a new approach.
"When you have a losing season and a losing season and a losing season, the coach goes," said former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, who ran in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Cobb earlier this year called for the resignations of Alabama Democratic Party Chair Nancy Worley and Vice-Chairman Joe Reed.
Mallory Hagan, a former news anchor and Miss America who ran in Alabama's 3rd Congressional District, used her election night speech to say that Democrats upset over the loss should be "mad at our own" party. Chief Justice candidate Bob Vance stopped short of calling for a change in leadership but he said the party needs a "new approach" and said promises of help never substantially materialized.
The Democratic Party, which has been silent for months at a time on social media, has been criticized for not being an active presence to promote the Democratic brand and candidates.
The party had about $800,000 combined in its state and federal accounts that it did not exhaust on efforts to back candidates.
"That's the burr under my saddle that the party had the capability and chose not to do anything with it," Vance said.
Worley defended the party's efforts and spending decisions. She said the party did have more money from qualifying fees this year, but had to hold money back for operating expenses, to pay debt and because of restrictions on how funds can be used.
Worley estimated the party spent about $250,000 on efforts for candidates, including fliers that pictured all the statewide candidates, and five days of radio and TV ads urging people to vote Democratic.
"Pointing the finger of blame at any single person after an election in just using the scapegoat method," Worley said
There are two separate petitions with the Democratic National Committee that were filed before Tuesday contesting Worley's August election as chairwoman. One of the petitions alleges that "elections were conducted in a sloppy and haphazard manner" and "deliberately manipulated" in order to favor Worley and others.
Worley said that they will file a response to those complaints.
Democrats in Alabama had been obliterated from statewide office — until Jones' election last year.
Sheila Gilbert, chairwoman of the Alabama Democratic Reform Caucus, said while state candidates had a 20-point deficit there were some close legislative races that she believed could have benefited from state party help.
Many veteran candidates had been modest in their expectations for Tuesday, not expecting a blue wave, but perhaps a blue ripple or at least slimmer margins in state races.
"I'm not sure that we could have moved the needle much, even if we had brought all these forces to bear, but certainly the absence of a meaningful party, not just for this election cycle, but for years now, I think has contributed to these problems which really became evident this last Tuesday," Vance said.