ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Doug Jones' victory is not only turning Alabama politics upside-down. It also adds a new challenge for Republicans in Washington. His win narrows the closely divided Senate down to a 51 to 49 GOP majority.
NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis has been talking to senators all day, and she joins us now from the Capitol. Sue, no party ever wants to lose an election, but there must be some measure of relief among Republicans that Roy Moore will not be joining their ranks.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: There absolutely is. You know, for Republicans, there really wasn't a good outcome for what was going to happen on Tuesday night. It was either confront what happens when Roy Moore comes into the Senate, or lose a seat. His loss does eliminate a lot of the tough questions that Republicans were facing - whether they should give him committee assignments, the fact that they were calling for an ethics investigation and whether or not that investigation could lead to an expulsion vote. All of those tough questions have been shelved.
There's no sadness at this loss, you know? And I talked to both Democrats and Republicans today who said that they viewed their colleague Alabama Senator Richard Shelby as sort of critical in his defeat in the fact that he came out in public on television in the final days before the race, that said he could not stomach Roy Moore and called for write-in votes and that the number of write-in votes was also greater than the margin of victory in this race and may have delivered a victory for Doug Jones.
SIEGEL: Roy Moore wasn't the only big loser yesterday. Steve Bannon, President Trump's former strategist, also lost. He's declared war on the Republican establishment, specifically on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Does Moore's defeat neutralize Bannon going into next year's elections?
DAVIS: That is certainly the hope of Mitch McConnell and his outside allies and super PACs and among donors. I think the view from McConnell land is that Bannon's influence in the Republican Party has always been a bit overstated. The argument between the two philosophically has been the McConnell wing says you have to nominate candidates who can win general elections. And Bannon has been making this argument that he's trying to remake the party in the image of Donald Trump. And the loss of Roy Moore has that McConnell wing saying, you know, we told you so. And as McConnell likes to say, winners get to make policy, and losers get to go home.
SIEGEL: The last time Alabama elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate was 1992. In fact it was Senator Shelby, who then became a Republican.
SIEGEL: How are Democrats reading this victory in the Deep and very Republican South?
DAVIS: You know, politics is always a zero-sum game, so a win is a win is a win. I think it's hard to draw too many conclusions because Roy Moore was such a fundamentally terrible candidate. But there are a lot of encouraging signs for Democrats here not only in Alabama but in a lot of the special elections we've seen play out this year.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer talked to reporters earlier today, and he said specifically the things that Democrats are looking at. They're winning in the suburbs. They're winning millennials overwhelmingly. And the Democratic base, particularly African-American voters who often sit out these midterm elections, are motivated. And they are showing up to vote.
You know, those indicators plus that sort of historical trend about midterms that the party out of power of the White House tends to win big is an encouraging sign for Democrats that not only can they put the House in play next year but that narrowing that Senate majority has given Senate Democrats a super narrow path to maybe making the Senate in play as well.
SIEGEL: The Republicans have a 52 to 48 majority. When Jones is sworn in, it'll be 51 to 49. How big a deal is that?
DAVIS: One of the questions that we're hearing a lot of - discussed on Capitol Hill today - does a more evenly divided Senate empower moderates because their swing votes suddenly become even more influential - Republicans like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine. You know, we saw Susan Collins in the hallway today, and we put this question to her and said, hey, do you think this increases the voice of moderates like yours? And she was stepping into an elevator. And she turned around and she just said, let's hope so.
SIEGEL: OK, NPR's Susan Davis on Capitol Hill, thanks.
DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.