By Steve Flowers
We have a great race for the U.S. Senate shaping up for March 31. When the votes from the first primary were counted, Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville were in a virtual tie at 32% and 33%, respectively.
Mobile-Baldwin Congressman Bradley Byrne garnered 25% of the vote which is significant and Judge Roy Moore’s 7% is nothing to sneeze at. Tuberville and Sessions will be fighting to convince Byrne and Moore voters to come to their aid. However, the most important quotient of Sessions’ and Tuberville’s missions will be to get their voters back to the polls.
Turn out is the key to a political victory. They only count the votes of those folks who go to the polls and vote. The most important ingredient to amassing your voters back to the polls is money. Campaign money is the mother’s milk of politics. The two runoff contenders are not overflowing with campaign cash. Sessions has about $1 million to spend and Tuberville has even less.
There is no question that President Donald Trump is very popular among Republican primary voters in the Heart of Dixie. It was apparent by just a cursory observation of the ads that all three of the frontrunners, Sessions, Tuberville and Byrne, were determined to say they loved Trump the most, and their negative ads insinuated that one of the others was not going to cozy up to Trump. The loser in the Trump best friend campaign was Jeff Sessions. Trump’s vitriolic tweets toward Sessions, during his three years as Attorney General, were easy ammunition.
This seat was held by Jeff Sessions for 20 years. Therefore, when he entered the fray late, most pundits expected him to waltz to victory even though there were some thoroughbreds in the race.
With the likes of Tuberville, Byrne and Moore, it was doubtful that he could win without a runoff. Polling indicated 10 days out that Tuberville had caught him and that they would wind up in a dead heat. Conventional wisdom suggests that with Sessions being the quasi incumbent and Tuberville being the anti-Washington establishment outsider that Tuberville is favored to win. Tuberville was given an early boost from Trump when the tweeting president sent out a negative tweet towards Sessions, the day after the March 3 primary. The next day, Trump bombshelled Sessions again and endorsed the coach.
The non-politician, pro-Trump campaign of Coach Tuberville has been effective. He ran well in rural Alabama where he campaigned hard one-on-one and having the Alabama Farmers Federation Association (ALFA) endorsement helped him immensely.
Tuberville’s vulnerability is his lack of knowledge of the issues and the fact that he was a Florida resident up until the time he decided to run for the Senate in Alabama. Sessions’ vulnerability is obviously Trump’s displeasure with him as U.S. Attorney General for not bending the law.
Therefore, my advice to each of the campaigns is this – for Tuberville, I would firmly say I could choose to live anywhere in the country. I chose to live in Alabama. In Sessions’ case, I would tell a story that might resonate with Alabama voters similar to the following:
We had a very popular president in the 1930s and 1940s named Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR was beloved all over the country, especially throughout the South. He was idolized in Georgia where he lived a good bit of the time at Warm Springs.
FDR was attempting a bold move to add six seats to the U.S. Supreme Court in order to keep the older conservative jurists from blocking some of his New Deal programs. History calls it the FDR Court Packing Plan.
The veteran Georgia Sen. Walter George opposed FDR’s court packing legislation. Senator George was up for reelection. There was a monumental event in the Peach State where every dignitary was there. President Roosevelt came to the event and with Senator George on the stage, FDR lambasted and ridiculed him, and asked Georgia voters to vote him out of office.
When it got time for Senator George to speak, the old veteran Georgian quietly and humbly said, “Mr. President we appreciate you being here. We in Georgia love and respect you. You’re the greatest president this country has ever had, but Mr. President, the people of Georgia will elect their senator.” He quietly sat down and was reelected two weeks later.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.