Inside the Statehouse

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Steve Flowers

GOP Senate runoff
in less than two weeks

Folks, we are less than two weeks away from our election contest for our U.S. Senate seat. The runoff between former Sen. Jeff Sessions and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville may be close and will be interesting.

The two conservatives were in a virtual dead heat in the March 3 GOP primary. Congressman Bradley Byrne, the Republican U.S. Representative from the 1st District, primarily Mobile and Baldwin counties, finished a strong third.

The runoff was initially set for March 31. However, the coronavirus delayed the runoff until July 14. Therefore, the big question is how did the 15-week delay affect the runoff outcome. It is difficult to say. However, my guess is that it may have been a salvation for Sessions.

Most pundits and polls indicated that Tuberville had the momentum and was set to win the runoff. The over three-month hiatus may have stymied if not thwarted that momentum the same way that football coaches call a timeout when the opposing team is driving toward a winning touchdown. It halts the Big Mo.

Amazingly, the entire campaign has been about Donald Trump and who can cozy up the most to the conservative Republican President. All three frontrunner candidates, Tuberville, Sessions and Byrne, made their campaign pitches not about issues but who can be Trump’s buddy or valet.

Sessions and Byrne both had instances where they both had lapses in their obedience to the irrational and irascible Don, so Tuberville’s lack of playing time in the political arena made him the more perceptual slave for Trump.

Tuberville’s entire campaign has been based on his being loyal to Trump. It has paid dividends. He led with 33% to Sessions’ 32% and Byrnes’ 25%. Indeed, as soon as the first primary was over in early March, Trump officially endorsed Tuberville. This endorsement propelled Tuberville into a nine-point lead in the polls in mid-March, which is when the pandemic hit and the election was delayed until July 14.

In the meantime, when the national economic virus shutdown subsided somewhat in mid-May, the campaign resumed. Trump again inserted himself into the Alabama GOP Senate race by blasting Sessions with yet another vitriolic attack. Trump asserted that Sessions had asked him four times to be Attorney General. Finally, Sessions took up for himself and retorted that he never asked Trump for the job.

Folks, I have watched Jeff Sessions’ career as our Junior U.S. Senator for 20 years and prior to that as Alabama’s Attorney General, and I am here to tell you that Jeff Sessions’ truth, veracity and integrity trumps Trump by a country mile. Honesty, integrity and truthfulness is not Trump’s forte. However, it has been Sessions’ during his more than 30 years in public service in Alabama.

In fact, Trump owed more to Sessions than naming him Attorney General. When Trump began his quest for the GOP nomination, he was given very little chance. Jeff Sessions’ endorsement as the nation’s most conservative senator gave the bombastic, egocentric New Yorker credibility and gave impetus to his race for the White House.

Actually, I said at the time that Sessions’ acquiescence to becoming Attorney General was a step down from being a veteran 20-year U.S. Senator and Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in a safe U.S. Senate seat. You can bet your bottom dollar he is now sorry he accepted the post. It is apparent he is not going to get Trump’s endorsement for obvious reasons. He would not break the law or do Trump’s bidding, so Trump hates him.

Trump has reaffirmed his endorsement of Tommy Tuberville. Historically, in Alabama politics, endorsements by one politician in another political race have not been advantageous. In fact, they have been counterproductive. Alabamians have inherently resented endorsements. However, in this case and in this race, my guess is that Trump is so popular among Republican voters in Alabama that his attacks on Sessions and endorsement of Tuberville will propel the coach to victory. In fact, polls show Tuberville with a double-digit lead. He has run a good campaign, staying on point and simply saying, I am going to support Donald Trump.

Have a Happy 4th of July.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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