Sessions collides with Tuberville, Trump in Alabama second round

“It’s like he’s keeping his lead and playing to avoid defense,” said Chris Brown, a Republican strategist in the state who expressed concern over Tuberville’s lack of background research in the primaries. invoking a football metaphor for extreme caution “I don’t think people really know much about Tommy Tuberville. that Trump backed him and he coached soccer. “

In Alabama, that may turn out to be enough. The two men compete to face Senator Doug Jones, who won a special election in 2017 and is this year’s most vulnerable Democrat. As Trump and his party have seen their poll numbers drop in recent months, a victory in Alabama is essential to Republicans’ chances of retaining their majority in the Senate.

Instead of the pending showdown with Jones, the second round was defined by the continued ridicule of Trump’s Sessions, who held the Senate seat for two decades before Trump took him out of the chamber to take over the Justice Department. But Sessions’ refusal of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, while praised by career prosecutors and ethics watchers, drew Trump’s ire, and Sessions never recovered in the president’s eyes.

“Jeff Sessions is a disaster that has disappointed us all,” Trump tweeted Saturday, three days before Tuesday’s second round. “We don’t want him back in Washington!”

Sessions responded, calling the insults “youthful” and reiterating his opinion that Tuberville was “too cowardly” to debate.

After Tuberville narrowly overtook Sessions for first place in the March 3 primary, the second round originally scheduled for the last day of March was postponed until mid-July. The change undermined Tuberville from momentum of his main victory and Trump’s endorsement a week later. It has also created an uncertain participation environment, with several other lower competitive tiebreakers on the ballot. Low participation could benefit Sessions, who has been involved in state politics for decades.

But while that time gave Sessions opportunities to revitalize his campaign, it didn’t necessarily change the career outlook. Polls have shown Tuberville with an advantage and secured the backing of Will Ainsworth, the state’s lieutenant governor, the last week.

“Coach Tuberville will spank Doug Jones,” Ainsworth said in an interview. “Doug Jones is a liberal out of touch That doesn’t resonate with Alabama. That was a fluke. “

Tuberville has defended his strategy, comparing debating Sessions at this point in the campaign to “play first” in a radio interview last month. He has also mistreated Sessions in television commercials, rejecting the “weak” accusation and attacking Sessions for his deteriorating relationship with Trump.

Still, some Republicans have been frustrated by the lack of commitment during the four-month second round. Representative Gary Palmer, who considered running for the Senate, said in a recent local radio interview that he was upset that there had been no debate. Some Republican consultants unaffiliated with the race have expressed concern about what awaits Tuberville if he emerges Tuesday, pointing to a recent New York Times report on Tuberville’s involvement in a failure. hedge fund for which your associate pleaded guilty to fraud.

“Because it hasn’t been investigated, because this is his first campaign, and because Doug Jones is sitting with millions and millions of dollars, there is concern that Tommy Tuberville will be able to survive the type of campaign that Doug Jones is going to run,” he said. Angi Stalnaker, a veteran operative who was a top aide to former Governor Robert Bentley. “We don’t know anything about Tommy Tuberville, other than that he is a football coach and loves Donald Trump. And we are all crossing our fingers, that will be enough to regain that seat for the Republicans. “

Trump overtook Alabama by nearly 30 percentage points in 2016, and most Republicans believe that either man will defeat Jones, who won in the 2017 special election by less than 2 percentage points over Roy Moore, who had been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with minors.

But the Republican Party still plans to spend precious resources to win. The Growth Club, which backed Tuberville after Trump did, will launch $ 1.3 million in television commercials the morning after the second round. One Nation, a dark money group affiliated with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is neutral in the primary but reserved $ 3.2 million to air the following week.

“The fight in Alabama will continue, I predict, the day after the second round and will continue through November,” David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, said in an interview.

A poll for the Club for Growth from June 29 to July 2 found Tuberville with a double-digit lead over Jones, 50 to 40 percent.

Democratic polls have shown a narrower career. An internal poll for Jones’ campaign conducted three weeks earlier showed Jones beating Tuberville by 3 percentage points. And an independent poll by ALG Research, an Alabama-based Democratic firm, showed Jones beating Tuberville by 3 points and Sessions by 2 points.

Sessions has repeatedly been on the attack during the second round, in the unknown place of the insurgent candidate running from behind without the benefits of ownership. He called Tuberville weak for not debating, and said he would be ineffective in the Senate. He posted his interviews with local media on Twitter while criticizing Tuberville, an Arkansas native who spent a decade as head coach at Auburn University., not to speak to the press.

“Jeff Sessions is tough, he’s determined, and he’s really brilliant. So for the past few months he’s been focused on winning every day, “said Curt Anderson, one of Sessions’ top campaign advisers.” Tuberville has basically been on autopilot and thought Trump’s endorsement is all that It needs, and it will be fine. Which could be true, by the way. But Sessions has really been fighting and talking about issues in depth. “

The Tuberville campaign refused to make him available for an interview and did not respond to written questions sent by POLITICO. But his allies brushed aside Sessions’ attacks as he simply misses a candidate Trailing.

“I think Jeff Sessions is in trouble, and he knows it, and he’s looking for straws,” said Ainsworth, the lieutenant governor who backed Tuberville.

Jones’ campaign has not influenced or aimed to raise one of his potential opponents. Instead, he has spent nearly $ 1.4 million on television with a series of positive ads that speak directly to the camera about his career history and problems.

Joe Trippi, a senior adviser to Jones, pointed to internal polls that showed them very close to any of the Republicans.

“We are at a standstill and we have $ 8 million in the bank against someone who has a divided party and is going to have to get the money back,” Trippi said. “We feel pretty good about our chances. Right now, we are running on our record. “