DECATUR, Ala. (CN) – Despite the Super Tuesday primary looming just days away, Alabama U.S. Senate candidate and former football coach Tommy Tuberville is already prepping his supporters for a runoff gameplay.
On Tuesday, the former head coach for Auburn University’s football team spoke to a group of about 40 supporters in a back room of Libby’s Catfish & Diner, which served up slabs of fried catfish and meat-and-three plates along a state highway south of Huntsville and a sprawling Tennessee River.
“Here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to vote next week,” Tuberville told the group. “There’s probably going to be a runoff. We’re going to come back up here and when we come back up here, we got to get a ton of folks. Everybody’s got to bring four or five friends.”
Tuberville is one of a handful of Republican candidates seeking the party’s nomination to challenge Democratic Senator Doug Jones’ reelection bid. Because none of the candidates are expected to win a majority of votes, the primary will likely go to a runoff decided on March 31.
Jones is considered one of the most vulnerable senators up for reelection this year. Representing a state where 62% of voters supported President Donald Trump in 2016, Jones cast his vote to convict him in the Senate’s impeachment trial this month.
Last year, the Alabama Legislature passed a law – currently blocked by a federal judge – that made performing an abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, a felony. On Monday, the Alabama Republican Party blasted Jones for voting against a federal bill that would criminalize the performance of an abortion on a fetus 20 weeks or older.
With a campaign slogan of “One Alabama,” Jones has touted the bipartisan bills he introduced in the Senate. According to his campaign website, those legislative efforts include funding for historically black colleges and universities, eliminating a tax on veterans’ surviving spouses nicknamed the “widow’s tax,” and increasing funding access for rural broadband, which is intended to aid in improving education in rural schools.
Jones’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the primary race.
In the weeks leading up to the March 3 primary, the Republican field has appeared to center on two leading candidates: Tuberville and Jeff Sessions. Sessions formerly held the Senate seat but relinquished it to become Trump’s attorney general. The president pressured him to step down after Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
While Sessions’ campaign did not return a request for comment, a video posted last month said Sessions, as attorney general, pushed back on the “radical secular left’s” campaign against religious liberty and “defended the faithful in court.”
A poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy on behalf of the Alabama Daily News earlier this month found the two candidates neck and neck, with 31% of potential Republican voters backing Sessions and 29% supporting Tuberville. Another candidate, Congressman Bradley Byrne, came in third place, polling at 17%.
Roy Moore, a controversial judge twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court, trailed with about 5% support, according to the poll. Moore ran against Jones in the 2017 special election to fill the seat after Sessions vacated it but his campaign imploded because of allegations of decades-old sexual impropriety.
“Doug Jones did not win that seat. Roy Moore lost it,” Angi Stalnaker, a conservative political consultant, said in an interview. She added Moore’s loss was largely due to Republican voters writing in names of other candidates.
While all three Republicans are different candidates, Stalnaker said, they all vow support for Trump’s agenda even as the president has remained silent about the race.
“What you have are commercials of three men in an absolute bro love-fest with the president. The question is, which one does the president take to the prom? And only he can answer that,” she said.
Neither the White House nor the Trump campaign returned a request for comment.
A few minutes past noon on Tuesday, Tuberville greeted the supporters waiting in the back room of the restaurant outside of Decatur. For the past several weeks, the candidate’s “The People vs. The Swamp” bus tour has stopped at rural eateries like Libby’s across the state, the bus acting like a mobile billboard.
He bills himself as a Washington outsider – who “ain’t got Donald Trump money, but I ain’t got to worry about it anymore” – and has pledged to donate his senatorial salary to veterans.
The country is in trouble, Tuberville said, as evidenced by the “socialist communist” the Democratic Party is about to make their presidential nominee, referring to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The former coach added young voters are generally more willing to back progressive candidates.
“It’s not going to make any difference how good a job Donald Trump does, which he’s doing a great job,” Tuberville said. “It’s not going to make any difference how low our taxes [are] or how big your house is or how many cars you got, if we don’t get control of the Department of Education.”
Tuberville explained he wants to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education, kicking its responsibility to the state departments of education that could better craft school policy for each individual state.
As for the kind of federal judges he plans to help confirm if he was elected senator, Tuberville said there are “three things: Christian, conservative, constitutionalist. Don’t make the law up, that’s the most important thing.”
Later that evening, SeBro Realty hosted a get-out-the-vote rally for Congressman Byrne in a converted garden center featuring a handsome front porch that wraps around three sides of the building in Hueytown, a dozen miles southwest of Birmingham.
At the campaign stop of Byrne’s “Fire Doug Jones Tour,” the congressman representing Mobile and communities near the Gulf of Mexico said he’s holding 21 events in the week leading up to Super Tuesday.
“We’ve been campaigning for a year, and we’ve covered this state from top to bottom. I’ve been to all 67 counties,” Byrne told two dozen supporters.
The mood at the Byrne rally was casual and even festive, as attendees wore Mardi Gras beads to go along with their various pro-Trump caps and jackets. After a brief introduction, Byrne took questions from the audience in a wide-ranging Q&A that covered everything from the coronavirus to climate change.
In November, Byrne told Courthouse News if he were senator he would look to confirm federal judges constrained by the law – the kind of judges the upper chamber has confirmed since Trump took office.
“I want judges that are going to read the law as it as written, apply it as written and not put their own interpretation on things,” said Byrne, who once unsuccessfully ran for Alabama governor.
The topic seemingly most important to the attendees in Hueytown, however, was the president, and Byrne made sure they knew just where he stands.
“I voted with him 97% of the time,” Byrne said proudly of his affiliation with Trump. “It’s a fight and we’ve got to figure out what team we’re on, and get on that team and be a team player. I’m a team player.”