After Massachusetts, I went through an exercise to assign blame for the outcome. The conclusion was that “when a Democrat loses a federal race in Massachusetts, the default assumption ought to be that several factors are to blame.” Some of the blame had to go to Democratic candidate Martha Coakley, who had blown a fairly large (although obviously not insurmountable) lead in the polls with a series of gaffes. Some of it had to go to other circumstances peculiar to Massachusetts, such as that the election had been a power grab, with Democrats having repeatedly changed the rules for how replacement senators were appointed in the state. But much of the problem also had to do with the national political environment. There were plenty of signs by early 2010 that it had shifted substantially toward Republicans.

We can go through a similar exercise in Alabama. By the way we usually calculate these things, Alabama is 28 or 29 percentage points more Republican than the country as a whole, but Jones just won an election there by 1 or 2 points,2 representing a 30-point swing from the norm. That is, we have about 30 percentage points worth of blame to assign. So how to divvy them up?