With only weeks until the primary, the campaign had to figure out how exactly much it could afford. Isner had just spent $30,000 on a radio ad and wasn’t prepared to spend more so quickly. Her lawyer, meanwhile, told her there might be a problem with writing such a large check to a PAC, which Reed’s party-affiliated caucus technically operates as. Skipper and Isner had embarked on a sprint to canvass in all of the district’s 15 counties within 15 days, and they were fielding urgent calls about the payment in areas where they had little cell service. “We joke about the Democratic Party in Alabama being like a vampire, sucking you of all of your resources,” Skipper said with a resigned laugh. “That’s very frustrating, but it’s the way the system has worked so far.”
The condition of Alabama’s state Democratic Party is a subject of constant agony in the area. Almost no young progressives I spoke to in the state had kind things to say about the effectiveness of the state party, which is seen as sclerotic, ineffective and out of touch. “I don’t even know where to start — I can feel my blood pressure going up,” Beth Clayton, the former president of the Alabama Young Democrats, told me. “If we were ever going to have an opportunity to do something, this would be it,” said Matthew Tyson, the president of Calhoun County Young Democrats, referring to the recent cascade of Republican scandals in the state. “We’re not doing anything. I’m frustrated by the fact that the party can’t produce any kind of offense.”
The head of the party is Nancy Worley, a former secretary of state who has been involved in Democratic politics for decades and is a close ally of Reed’s, who heads the black caucus. Worley, who is white, has long been criticized for her failure to fund-raise, to capitalize on Republican scandals and to project the kind of professionalism that ambitious state Democrats want to see at the head of their party. A few years ago, her annual holiday letter to party members and donors included an anecdote about getting stuck on the toilet for several hours, and a request for recipients to resend their contact information because she had broken her phone. “The party has been totally ineffective,” Doug Jones told me. “It existed only in name, and a couple people who just open the doors to the office and answer the phone. They have not helped candidates; they didn’t really recruit candidates, and they were nonexistent during my campaign.” At the state party’s executive committee meeting in August, Jones backed an insurgent campaign from a Montgomery lawyer trying to unseat Worley. But despite Worley’s unpopularity with young progressives, the committee voted to retain her for another four-year term.
Isner learned over time to keep her expectations low when it came to support from Worley and Reed. But meanwhile, she was also getting little support from national Democrats and their donors, who apparently didn’t see her as part of their path to retaking the House. Over the course of the summer, a road that had always been uphill started to look even steeper. In 2017, the D.C.C.C. had identified Roby’s seat as vulnerable. But Isner hasn’t made the more prestigious “Red to Blue” list of candidates whose seats seem truly in play — meaning that money hasn’t flowed into the race, a chicken-and-egg problem that has frustrated Isner. The group had sent a member of its new “expansion pod” to meet with her in the spring, but the meeting didn’t lead to much. “We’re always talking with campaigns, asking, ‘Do you have polling or data that shows things have changed, and there’s a clear path to victory?’ ” said Law, the organization’s press secretary. “We keep a very open mind.” (Isner has declined to release the results of a poll she commissioned.)
By the end of June, Isner had raised just $240,000 to Roby’s $2.2 million. High-profile national groups, including Emily’s List, had declined to boost her candidacy. Skipper indignantly contacted a local news site when a headline after the primary suggested the general election was as good as over: “Martha Roby Wins Fifth Term.” In August, the website FiveThirtyEight estimated that Isner had the best chances of any Democratic congressional candidate competing in the state — and still had just a 2.7 percent chance of winning. (The pollster hired by Isner, Celinda Lake, pushed back at those results. “This is a very difficult district, but this is a place where you could get a surprise,” she said. “[Democrats] don’t know whether we’ll win 23 seats or 43 seats. If we win 43 seats, this could be one of them.”)
It was becoming clear that Isner was not the kind of candidate blue-state progressives were in the mood to fund this year. “Being a super-Christian Democrat works great in Alabama, but it’s a hard sell nationally,” Isner told me. A summer fund-raising trip to San Francisco was promising but didn’t yield many major donations. One donor there asked for a 5 p.m. meeting because he expected others from his law firm would be interested in meeting her, but no one else showed up. In planning the trip, Isner floated the idea of teaming up with Mallory Hagan, the candidate in the state’s third congressional district, who happens to be a former Miss America. The California friend facilitating the trip, a well-connected venture capitalist, blanched at the idea. “We’re not into pageants,” he told her.
Again and again, Isner ran into the disjunct between what national Democrats and out-of-state donors want from her and what she thinks will work in Alabama. “In Alabama, to be an electable Democrat, you have to be a moderate, and that makes hard-core Democrats mad,” Isner said. “You can’t win. Or no one’s figured out yet how to win.” Even within the state, some progressives wish she would stake out firmer positions on the left. “I get regular attacks from Democrats in Alabama saying, ‘Why aren’t you more like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; why aren’t you more like Andrew Gillum [the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida]?’ They won their primaries, so it’s proof you should be more liberal!” She laughed, sounding a little exasperated. “I think, But I won my primary, so isn’t that proof I should be me?”
Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/17/magazine/struggling-to-bring-the-blue-wave-to-deep-red-alabama.html1099