By Jim EllisApril 17, 2019 — Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy just surveyed the Alabama electorate (April 9-11; 625 registered Alabama voters), testing Sen. Doug Jones’ (D) pre-campaign political strength and the fledgling potential Republican candidate field.
The Alabama Senate race may be the most important in the 2020 cycle. If the majority Republicans unseat Sen. Jones, who was the beneficiary of former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore imploding in the 2017 special election to replace Sen. Jeff Sessions (R), they will increase their chamber advantage to 54-46 at a time when the party has to defend 10 more seats than their Democratic counterparts. If they fail to convert and Sen. Jones is re-elected, the Democrats will exponentially increase their odds of re-capturing Senate control.
Though the M-D poll did not pair Sen. Jones with potential Republican nominees, they do provide us some important information. On the question of whether Sen. Jones deserves to be re-elected, a majority response of 50 percent say he should be replaced. Conversely, 40 percent believes he should be re-elected.
The senator’s job approval ratio is virtually dead even, with 45 percent of the respondents providing positive comments about how he is performing in Washington versus 44 percent who believe he is not performing well. Jones is viewed positively in the Birmingham metro area (48:41 percent), and very positively in the Montgomery region (71:21 percent). In all other Alabama geographic sectors, he is perceived negatively with his worst numbers coming in eastern Alabama where the ratio drops to 35:53 percent.
The partisan split is about what one might expect, though Sen. Jones performs slightly better among Republicans than other similar incumbents. By a spread of 84:9 percent, Democrats view him favorably, while the ratio among Republicans is 16:74 percent positive to negative. Perhaps the best news for Sen. Jones comes from Independents who view him favorably in a 43:38 percent cut.
The big question surrounds Judge Moore, who lost the special election when revelations that he dated underage girls earlier in life came to the forefront. He has not ruled out running, and Sen. Jones is publicly encouraging him to enter this race. Though he was badly politically damaged in the 2017 special, his personal favorability rating is still relatively strong within the test Republican respondent cell of 400 individuals. By a margin of 34:29 percent, these people have a positive opinion of Judge Moore.
If a crowded field emerges for the 2020 race as did in 2017, it would not be shocking to see Moore finish first. In this Mason-Dixon poll, he does just that, topping Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), who is not likely to run, and Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile) who is a candidate. Rep. Gary Palmer’s (R-Hoover) name is also being bandied about as a possible candidate.
In this field (the poll was taken before former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville entered the campaign), Judge Moore would lead with 27 percent, followed by Rep. Brooks at 18 percent, and Reps. Byrne and Palmer with 13 percent and 11 percent, respectively. But, as M-D points out in their analysis, the good news for the Republicans is that Moore’s advantage in a crowded field probably dissipates in a run-off election, which would become necessary if no candidate received an absolute majority in the primary.
The picture could change when Tuberville is added to the mix, and when it becomes clear as to whether Reps. Brooks and Palmer will run. Until these questions are answered, it is difficult to predict just how the Republican nomination cycle would unfold in Alabama, but we can count on a major GOP general election effort here so long as Judge Moore does not return as the Republican nominee.