Jeff Sessions wants to take on Doug Jones in Alabama’s Senate race — but must contend with Trump voters who believe ‘the swamp got to him’
Of all the Democrats who are seeking reelection to the U.S. Senate in 2020, the one who is often cited as the most vulnerable is Alabama Sen. Doug Jones — a centrist Democrat in a deep red state where President Donald Trump continues to be quite popular. The Republicans who been competing for a chance to run against Jones range from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville to Rep. Bradley Byrne. And Sessions, journalists James Arkin and Marianne Levine report in an article for Politico, is facing his share of challenges in Alabama’s GOP senatorial primary even though polls have shown him with a narrow lead over Tuberville and Byrne.
This Tuesday, March 3 will not only be Super Tuesday for 2020’s Democratic presidential hopefuls — it will also find Alabama Republicans voting on who they believe should have a chance to take on Jones in the general election. One of Sessions’ greatest challenges is Trump: the president continues to hold a grudge because Sessions (who served in the U.S. Senate via Alabama in the past) insisted on recusing himself from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Trump fired Sessions in 2018, choosing loyalist Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general before later nominating William Barr.
Arkin and Levine note Sessions, according to polls, is “well short of the 50% needed to win the nomination without a runoff.”
Rep. Robert Aderholt told Politico, “You could paint the scenario that Jeff Sessions could win. But I could paint a scenario where he gets into a tough runoff, and that he could very well lose. And I think he understands that.”
Judge Roy Moore, who Jones defeated in 2017, has also been running as a Republican in the primary. But Arkin and Levine point out that Sessions, Tuberville and Byrne are the three main contenders. And Republican strategists have been breathing a sigh of relief that Moore has been trailing Sessions, Tuberville and Byrne in recent polls — as they worry that if Moore (who, in 2017, was plagued with sexual misconduct allegations involving teenage girls) received the nomination, Jones would defeat him again.
A GOP operative, quoted anonymously, told Politico he fears that Sessions’ problems with Trump could hurt him with Republican voters in Alabama.
“For all intents and purposes,” the operative said of Sessions, “he is an incumbent in Alabama. He’s been on the ballot since 1994. The guy is as known as you can be known as a politician. So, inside a Republican primary, I’m worried that there is that sentiment out there that, ‘He didn’t stand with the president, and I’m going to vote for somebody other than Jeff.’”
Republican John Merrill, Alabama’s secretary of state, also believes that Sessions is running into problems with Trumpistas in the senatorial primary.
“I cannot find a single person in this state that will tell me that they don’t think Jeff Sessions did a good job as a U.S. senator,” Merrill told Politico. “What I consistently hear them say is they were disappointed in his performance in his role as attorney general, and that’s the only thing they’re frustrated or disappointed with him about.”
A March 1 article by Jenny Harvie for the Los Angeles Times found that some Republican voters in Alabama still resent Sessions for being, as they see it, unsupportive of Trump. Judy Hamrick, a 66-year-old Trump supporter, told the Times that she’s voting for Tuberville because, “I think (Sessions) did Trump harm. I think the swamp got to him. I respect him…. I just don’t think I could send him back (to the Senate).”
During his campaign, Sessions has refused to say a word against Trump — despite all the hateful things Trump has said about him. In fact, Sessions has stressed that he hopes to see Trump reelected in November.
Wayne Flynt, a history professor at Auburn University, told the Times, “The conundrum for Sessions is this: tie yourself to a man who denounced you as the worst appointment he ever made and as a total failure as attorney general — all of a sudden, the Democrats are going to be using Trump’s words against the Republican nominee.”