By Jim EllisJuly 14, 2020 — The long-awaited Alabama US Senate Republican runoff between retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville and former US attorney general and ex-Alabama senator Jeff Sessions will be decided today, and polls are suggesting we will see a clear winner relatively early tonight.
The primary election was held way back on March 3 with the original runoff scheduled for March 31. Shortly after the primary, Gov. Kay Ivey (R) postponed the runoff in response to COVID-19 suggested precautions. The primary election ended with Sessions trailing Tuberville, 33.4 – 31.6 percent, a spread of 12,528 votes from over 717,000 ballots cast.
Originally, it appeared the four-month voting delay might be a break for Sessions, giving him time to rebound from a rather poor performance in the primary election. It doesn’t appear he has been able to turn the tide. Since the primary, nine polls have been conducted and released from six different pollsters. Eight of the surveys post Tuberville to a lead, while one showed the race a tie.
The latest survey, conducted over the July 2-9 period from Auburn University at Montgomery, finds Tuberville expanding his lead to 47-31 percent. The polling methodology poses questions, however. The Auburn pollsters list 558 respondents, but this is their general election sample. They do not indicate how many people comprised the Republican runoff likely voter cell, so it is difficult to judge reliability.
It is possible, however, that Tuberville holds such a large lead heading into the election because he is averaging a 12.3 percent advantage in the eight other polls conducted during the post-primary period. In two of the polls, both taken in May by independent pollsters, the Tuberville advantage expanded to 22 and 23 points, respectively.
Sessions’ political problems took hold when he resigned as attorney general under a barrage of criticism from President Trump. Tuberville capitalized with a wave of advertising featuring a commercial that began with a NBC interview clip between Trump and Chuck Todd where the president said his biggest regret since taking office was appointing Jeff Sessions as attorney general.
With the negative stigma from his stint in the Trump Administration, only attracting 32 percent of the primary vote when he has 100 percent name identification among Republicans when compared to him running unopposed in the 2014 Senate election, it appears that Sessions’ political comeback will fall short later tonight.
For the general election, Tuberville would likely begin with the lead over incumbent Sen. Doug Jones (D). All five post primary polls find the challenger topping Sen. Jones, who won the 2017 special election ironically held to replace Sessions after he had been appointed AG. Sessions leads Sen. Jones in all of those polls, too, but in smaller margins than Tuberville.
The Alabama Senate race could well be the most important in the nation in helping to determine majority control in the next Congress. Republican wins here would push their majority to 54, making it all the more difficult for Democrats to defeat enough Republican incumbents to push them into the majority.
Two US House runoff elections will also be decided tonight. In the Mobile-anchored 1st District, the main action is on the Republican side as either Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl and former state senator Bill Hightower will win the opportunity of succeeding Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile) in the US House. Byrne risked the seat to enter the Senate race but obviously fell short of making the runoff election.
Finances here are about even. Thanks to Carl infusing his campaign with a $758,900 loan, the county commissioner has outraised Hightower, $1.7 million to $1.2 million. The conservative outside organization Club for Growth, however, has been active on Hightower’s behalf with electronic ads, which certainly evens the financial accounting and then some.
In the primary, Carl finished a little more than 1,200 votes ahead of ex-Sen. Hightower. Tonight’s contest is rated a toss-up.
In the adjoining southeast Alabama 2nd District, five-term Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) is retiring. In her wake is a runoff election between national moving company owner Jeff Coleman and former state representative Barry Moore (R-Enterprise). Here, Coleman placed first over Moore by 18 percentage points in the primary, and the second place finisher has had to withstand Coleman dropping over $1 million of his own money into the race, thus giving him a $2.39 million to $487,000 major financial edge.
Regardless of who wins these runoff elections tonight, the GOP will hold both the 1st and 2nd District open seats in the general election.