By Jim EllisFeb. 13, 2020 — Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy conducted a new poll (Feb. 4-6; 400 likely Alabama Republican primary voters) of the Alabama Senate race and though former US attorney general and ex-Alabama senator, Jeff Sessions, still leads in what is a tightening Republican primary, peeling away the underlying data suggests that he could find rough going in an inevitable run-off election.
The M-D results find Sessions leading only 31-29 percent over former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile) trails with 17 percent, but well ahead of former Alabama Supreme Court chief judge and 2017 special election Senate nominee Roy Moore who posts just five percent support.
Sessions’ numbers have declined significantly since he entered the race, obviously suggesting a downward trend pointing to a more serious situation when further seeing that his name identification is universal.
With a significant double-digit margin between the top two poll finishers and Rep. Byrne, it becomes highly likely that both Sessions and Tuberville would advance to a run-off election. Neither is positioned to win the nomination outright, however. With Sessions nowhere close to a majority and, after considering his long political history in the state and 100% name identification among Republican primary voters and his current tepid ballot test numbers, it would not be surprising to see Tuberville overtake him in a one-on-one battle.
Another clue that Sessions has political problems is his favorability index as detected in the Mason-Dixon poll. According to their cell responses, Sessions carries a 49:18 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio among Republican primary voters, which looks positive on the surface, but after overlaying the pervasive name ID percentage it becomes clear that half of the respondents fail to have a positive impression.
The clue is that 31 percent say their opinion is “neutral” about him. If virtually every respondent knows him yet almost one-third indicate they have no formed impression, such a descripton must be considered as at least a leaning negative response.
Obviously, much of the less than positive opinion score can be credited to his well-publicized feud with President Trump while Sessions was attorney general. The Trump relationship, however, is not his only negative. Another is that people simply think he has been in Alabama politics too long and are looking for fresh representation. This latter perception problem will likely be more difficult to rectify than his highly publicized poor relationship with President Trump.
Though the Mason-Dixon run-off forecast still finds Sessions leading Tuberville 49-40 percent, the underlying numbers as described above suggest a potentially different conclusion. Therefore, with Sessions in a dogfight for his party nomination and the Republicans running ahead of Sen. Doug Jones (D) in general election polling, the run-off appears to be the contest that will define the identity of the next senator.
The November match-ups project all of the tested Republicans leading Sen. Jones. For these polling iterations, the sampling universe expands to 625 from 400 as Democrats are added to the mix.
Sessions would lead Sen. Jones, 54-41 percent. Mr. Tuberville would begin with a similar 50-42 percent spread against the Democratic incumbent. So does Rep. Byrne, as the ballot test against Sen. Jones would break 51-42 percent in his favor.
The Alabama race is one of the most important Senate campaigns in the 2020 cycle. Should the Republicans convert the general election, as this and other polls suggest, the GOP majority expands to 54-46. This might make the gap between they and the Democrats substantial enough to withstand losses in other states. Democrats are targeting Republican incumbents in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina in particular.
The eventual GOP nominee will be in the favorite’s position against Sen. Jones largely because of Alabama’s strong Republican vote history. The fact that 2020 is a presidential election year and Trump will again be on the ballot in what will be one of his top three performing states adds another serious obstacle against Sen. Jones winning a second term, particularly after the latter man voted to remove the president from office.