- The Washington Times
Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Desperately trying to make up ground in his runoff, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions challenged front-runner Tommy Tuberville to a series of debates in their effort to take back an Alabama Senate seat once regarded as a Republican lock.

Mr. Sessions, who fell out of favor with President Trump after stepping aside from the Russia investigation in 2017, finished second behind Mr. Tuberville in Alabama’s GOP primary in March. The pandemic has made any sort of traditional campaigning impossible. It has hindered Sessions’s efforts to close the gap on the former Auburn University football coach in their July 14 runoff.

“I challenge you to a series of five debates before the voters of Alabama, one for each major media market in our state,” Mr. Sessions said in a statement.

Mr. Tuberville remains something of a risky unknown, according to the Sessions camp. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones narrowly won against former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore after allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls came to light.

“Anyone representing Alabama needs to be fully vetted before they are trusted to represent Alabama Republicans in a race against Doug Jones,” the Sessions statement said. “I’ve been fully vetted, over and over again. The national Democratic Party tried to find ‘dirt’ on me when I helped President Trump win the 2016 election, and again when he nominated me for Attorney General. They came up empty, because there’s nothing there.”

The Tuberville campaign did not reply to a request for comment.

The winner will face Mr. Jones, considered the most vulnerable incumbent in Congress after winning his seat by a razor-thin margin in the unusual 2017 special election.

While the March GOP-primary vote was close — Mr. Tuberville edged Mr. Sessions by 33% to 31% — the fact Mr. Sessions barely cracked 30% is an ominous signs for his campaign, according to Southern political experts.

“I’d say ‘dead in the water,’” said John Couvillon, head of JMC Enterprises, a polling and political research firm in Louisiana.

A 31% second-place finish in a crowded field is a disquieting performance for any politician with Mr. Sessions‘ resume and name recognition, Mr. Couvillon noted, and the most recent surveys don’t signal a surge in support.

Two polls since March, conducted by Cygnal, show Mr. Sessions slipping further behind. One week after the original primary, Mr. Sessions trailed Mr. Tuberville by 12 points, and that margin had grown to 23 points last week.

In addition, the July turnout is unlikely to approach that of March, when President Trump was on the Super Tuesday primary ballot, and Mr. Trump’s subsequent endorsement of Mr. Tuberville will hurt Mr. Sessions, according to Mr. Couvillon.

“This is a very steep, uphill climb for Sessions,” he said. “His most recent number — 32% — is almost identical to the vote he got in March and he’s now gone crossways with Trump. I would say that at this point it looks like Sessions is in deep, deep trouble.”

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