New Poll: Jones vs. Sessions

By Jim Ellis

Former Senator and US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions (R)

Jan. 8, 2020 — JMC Analytics and Polling just released their December statewide Alabama poll (Dec. 16-18; 525 likely Alabama voters) testing Sen. Doug Jones (D) against the Republican senatorial field including former senator and US attorney general Jeff Sessions.

Though JMC segmented demographics and geography within the polling universe they surprisingly did not identify partisan leanings. Therefore, it becomes difficult to see just how Republicans, Democrats, and Independents individually break and whether or not Sessions’ past public feud with President Trump is hurting him among GOP base voters.

The ballot test results, however, lead us to conclude that the former senator’s support within the Trump universe may be somewhat weak largely because he does no better than lesser known Republican candidates.

Sen. Jones is clearly the most vulnerable of the 11 Democratic incumbents standing for re-election in the 2020 cycle, not including Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey’s Democratic primary challenge from Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Newton). Considering that Republicans have a 53-47 advantage in the Senate and must defend 23 of the 35 in-cycle seats, re-taking Alabama is critically important to Republican majority goals.

According to the JMC data, Sessions would lead Sen. Jones, 46-41 percent, which is a credible showing for a Democrat in Alabama irrespective of incumbency. Pairing with the other Republican candidates produces similar results. Against former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville (R), Sen. Jones would trail 40-47 percent. If US Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile) were the GOP nominee, the spread would be 44-40 percent in the Republican’s favor.

Should former state Supreme Court Chief Judge and 2017 US Senate nominee Roy Moore again become the Republican standard bearer, the tables turn. Sen. Jones would lead Moore, 47-33 percent, in a head-to-head match-up. Against little known state Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Shelby County), Sen. Jones would again enjoy an advantage, this time 40-34 percent.

Several points must be made about the poll, however, which could place the Republican field in better position. First, GOP candidates typically under-poll by several points in the South. Second, while Sen. Jones’ favorability index was not tested, his re-elect score revealed that only 34 percent feel the senator deserves re-election while 48 percent do not. Third, in no ballot test segment, even against a weakened Roy Moore, does Sen. Jones reach the 50 percent plateau.

Additionally, the poll is comprised of 54 percent female respondents, again suggesting that the overall sample slightly skews Democratic. The polling universe does view President Trump favorably, however. When asked if the president deserves re-election, 54 percent responded positively versus 43 percent who disagree. By a 54-39 percent margin, the respondent universe opposes the president’s impeachment.

Without dividing the respondents by political party affiliation, it is difficult to see how the candidates fare in the Republican primary, which is scheduled for March 3. If no one obtains majority support in that contest, the top two GOP finishers will advance to an April 14 run-off.

The general election ballot tests suggest that a Republican secondary election is likely. Seeing that former Sen. Sessions is positioned similarly to Coach Tuberville, and with neither man hitting 50 percent against Sen. Jones, while the other Republicans fare worse, we can surmise that no one is strong enough to win the nomination outright on Super Tuesday.

It is clear that the Alabama race is a must-win contest for the Republicans. If they re-claim what should be a safe seat for the party, their majority margin grows to 54. Should they attain this number, it might well place the Senate majority figure out of reach even though the Democrats seemingly have more than enough Republican targets to claim either 50 or 51 seats (the minimum majority number depending upon whether the Democratic presidential candidate wins or loses).

If the Republicans can win Alabama, it will force the Democrats to virtually run the table in vulnerable GOP incumbent states, always a tall order in any election year and certainly so in what promises to be a rough and tumble 2020 campaign cycle. Therefore, the importance of the Alabama campaign from a national majority perspective cannot be underestimated.

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