Voters in Alabama will go to the polls Tuesday to select a Republican to challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Doug Jones. Their choices in this runoff primary are former Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was nominated to the federal bench by President Reagan, has won five statewide elections, and honorably and reliably served the people of Alabama as a U.S. senator for 20 years, and Tommy Tuberville, who has been a managing partner of a hedge fund (which ultimately devolved into financial fraud) and a college football coach.
Mr. Jones, as you may remember, was fortunate enough to face Judge Roy Moore in 2017, in a special election to replace … Sen. Jeff Sessions, who had resigned to become President Trump’s first attorney general. That 2017 election featured a late endorsement during the primary by Mr. Trump of Luther Strange (then acting attorney general of Alabama), and then, after he lost the primary, an endorsement of Judge Moore.
To no one’s surprise, Judge Moore offered up a dumpster fire of a campaign and managed to lose as a Republican in perhaps the reddest state in the union.
This time around, Mr. Tuberville is playing the part of the tabula rasa. He has no electoral experience. Prior to the campaign, he had offered no public comments that could be construed as policy statements. He had donated no money to any candidate for office. To date, he has not articulated what he plans to do if elected senator. In short, no one really knows much about what he might actually believe.
Mr. Tuberville — like Judge Moore before him — has never faced the scrutiny associated with running for office at any level, let alone a statewide race into which the Democrats are certain to pour millions of dollars in an attempt to hold their solitary at-risk Senate seat.
We’ve seen some of what Mr. Jones thinks about the race. A few days ago, his campaign released the results of a survey that showed Mr. Tuberville leading in a head to head matchup between Mr. Jones and himself. There were no such results offered with respect to a race between Mr. Jones and Mr. Sessions.
The Jones crew is clearly trying to persuade voters that Mr. Tuberville will be the stronger candidate. If that seems odd, it should. It is what campaigns do when they are trying to select against whom they wish to run.
Mr. Jones and his team are trying to help Mr. Tuberville because they understand he will be weaker candidate in the general election in November. It probably doesn’t help Mr. Tuberville’s case that he has been unwilling to debate Mr. Sessions, or even appear to answer questions before the media. Moreover, after 30 years in college football, it seems likely that there may be some skeletons in that particular closet, and a few of them are probably pretty unsavory. A decent opposition research effort will have those ready to go in September and October.
Mr. Sessions, on the other hand, has been a durable warrior for conservatism and a solid ally of the president’s policies. His Senate voting record includes votes against comprehensive immigration reform (2006), the 2008 Bush bank bailout, the Obama stimulus legislation in 2009, Obamacare, and the misguided criminal justice reform effort in 2015. In the event the Democrats take the Senate by a narrow margin, his previous experience would be invaluable.
Mr. Jones barely won in 2017, with a margin of just 22,000 votes out of more than a million votes cast. He knows that to win this time, he again needs a weak opponent. In the general election campaign, Mr. Sessions will be the stronger candidate and will give the Republicans the best chance to win the Senate seat in Alabama this November.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
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