Tuberville, Sessions & Sessions;
Moore, Hegar & Valenzuela

By Jim Ellis

Former Auburn Football coach Tommy Tuberville (center) overwhelms Jeff Sessions in Alabama.

July 15, 2020 — The Texas and Alabama runoffs were held yesterday along with the postponed Maine primary, and we have some winners and cliff hangers.

In Alabama, retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, as expected, pretty much demolished former US attorney general and ex-Alabama senator Jeff Sessions last night with the margin of victory being larger than expected. Though earlier polls had predicted spreads as large as 22 points, a 61-39 percent Tuberville victory margin was not forecast even though every pollster found the former coach leading the race. The Tuberville victory was so complete that Sessions, a man who ran unopposed in his previous Senate re-election campaign (2014), was limited to winning only three counties.

Tuberville advances into the general election to face incumbent Democrat, Sen. Doug Jones, who won a special election in 2017 ironically to replace Sessions after he was appointed to his Trump Administration position. Early polling suggests Tuberville will open the general election with a discernible lead over Sen. Jones in what will likely be a top-three state for President Trump.

Alabama hosted two significant Republican runoff elections last night, both of which almost assuredly identified a pair of new congressmen. In the Mobile-anchored 1st District, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl topped former state senator Bill Hightower, 52-48 percent, and will easily win the general election in November. In the adjoining 2nd District, despite being outspent by a 5:1 ratio, former state Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) easily defeated moving company owner Jeff Coleman who finished first in the regular primary.

Moore scored a 60-40 percent win over Coleman who dropped more than $1 million of his own money into his campaign and earned retiring Rep. Martha Roby’s (R-Montgomery) endorsement. Moore ran as a Trump Republican and mixed his campaign message with attacks on DC and clever issue targeting. He did not run a negative race against Coleman who had been attacked in the primary. Coleman attracted 38 percent on March 3 but could only expand his runoff vote to 40 percent. Moore, on the other hand, who barely qualified for the runoff – just 591 votes ahead of third place finisher Jessica Taylor – was able to build a winning runoff coalition of 60 percent as compared to his 20 percent in the primary.

Turning to the Texas Senate Democratic runoff, retired Army helicopter pilot M.J. Hegar defeated state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) by only about 40,000 votes statewide with further precincts to count. Hegar was mathematically projected the winner, but her margin could continue to shrink once the final tabulations are calculated and reported. She will now challenge Sen. John Cornyn (R) in a race that should break the incumbent’s way by a comfortable margin in November.

In notable House races, former Dallas County congressman Pete Sessions (R), who was defeated for re-election in 2018, looks to have completed his political comeback from his boyhood hometown of Waco. Sessions defeated healthcare executive Renee Swann, who retiring Rep. Bill Flores (R-Bryan) strongly supported, by a 54-46 percent count last night. The former 11-term US representative will now become a heavy favorite in the general election from this strongly Republican 17th District.

Upon winning in November, this will be the third separate district Sessions will have represented during his congressional career. First elected to the 5th District in 1996, the congressman switched to the Dallas County 32nd District post redistricting in 2004, and now will represent a more rural district more closely identified with central Texas.

Beginning as a decided underdog when qualifying for the runoff against favorite Beth Olson in the 24th District Texas Democratic primary, former Carrollton School Board member Candace Valenzuela, with the help of Hispanic leaders and outside organizations, upended Olson, a retired US Air Force colonel and 2018 statewide Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner, by a full 20 percentage points, 60-40 percent.

Valenzuela now advances into the general election against former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who won the Republican nomination back on March 3. This will be a hard-fought general election campaign, but Van Duyne should be regarded at least as a slight favorite in what continues as a lean Republican district.

Elsewhere in Texas, Ft. Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls easily defeated businesswoman Kathaleen Wall for the open 22nd District. Wall failed to win the nomination despite spending more than $7 million of her own money on the race. Sheriff Nehls advances into the general election against 2018 Democratic nominee Sri Preston Kulkarni who won his party’s nomination outright in the March 3 primary. This will be a competitive race.

We may not know for some time who the Republican nominee is in the open 23rd District. With 95 percent of the precincts reporting, retired Naval noncommissioned officer Tony Gonzales led homebuilder Raul Reyes by three votes, 12,319 to 12,316. Obviously, this race is too close to call and all will have to wait until absentee ballots are received and fully counted before a winner emerges. The eventual nominee will face an uphill battle against 2018 Democratic nominee Gina Ortiz Jones, who held retiring Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) to a 926-vote win in 2018. Jones was re-nominated in the March 3 primary.

In the Texas panhandle, retired Navy admiral and former White House physician Ronny Jackson defeated former congressional aide and lobbyist Josh Winegarner with a 56-44 percent margin. Jackson, who enjoyed President Trump’s support in this race, will now become a prohibitive favorite to succeed retiring veteran Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon/Amarillo) who was first elected in 1994.

Finally, in the Maine primary, it appears we are going to have a Ranked Choice Voting nominee in the 2nd Congressional District. Republican former state Rep. Dale Crafts leads the field of three candidates but will come short of securing majority support. Ex-US Senate nominee and former state legislator Eric Brakey looks to be finishing last.

After the counts are finalized, election authorities will go through all of the ballots to find those who ranked Brakey first. Since he finished last, those ballots will then be perused for their second choice. At this point, second choice votes from only the Brakey first ballots will be added to the overall count.

Because there were only three candidates in this race, the second round will automatically produce a 50 percent winner. Crafts is the favorite to prevail, but such an outcome is not certain. Former gubernatorial press secretary Adrienne Bennett is the second-place finisher, trailing by 12 percentage points with more than 71 percent of the precincts counted. The winner will then challenge freshman Rep. Jared Golden (D-Lewiston) in the general election. The congressional nominee should get a boost from President Trump who will likely carry the district and give the rest of the Republican ticket a boost.

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