Old political maxims clearly played out true to form in the GOP runoff for our junior U.S. Senate seat on July 14.
Tommy Tuberville ran a very wise and disciplined campaign. He steadily stayed on point and simply said ‘I am going to support Donald Trump.’ Undoubtedly, when Tuberville decided about a year ago to leave his Florida home and run for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, whoever was advising him knew that the only issue was going to be who could cozy up to Donald J. Trump the most. They gave Tuberville the script and he followed his playbook to perfection. He never deviated and never got distracted by issues, questions or debates. He simply rode the Donald Trump horse all the way home.
Trump is very popular among Republican voters in the Heart of Dixie. That same horse will more than likely carry Tuberville to victory over Doug Jones in November. Trump will beat Joe Biden 60 to 40 in the state and Tuberville’s numbers over Jones should be close to that same margin. There will be a lot of straight ticket voting in the fall. There are more Republican voters than Democratic voters in Alabama.
Therefore, Tuberville’s victory illustrates two cardinal maxims of Alabama politics. Number one is that more people vote against someone or something than for someone or something. Trump said he did not like Jeff Sessions and asked Alabama GOP voters to vote against him and they obliged Trump. Secondly, Tuberville kept it simple. He epitomized the old saying, “Keep it simple stupid.” It is called the KISS formula. He stayed on message just like a parrot. He did not have to say much. Trump said it all. It also accrued to Tuberville’s advantage that he was a non-politician and Washington outsider. Sessions had sat in this seat in the senate for 20 years.
Tuberville began the race with some significant name identification. Thus, the third maxim, you must have name identification before you have a chance to win. People are not going to vote for someone they have never heard of. Tuberville’s name identification numbers were 35 percent going into the race, which was about as high as Sessions and a little higher than Bradley Byrne. That is truly a testament to how popular college football is in Alabama.
It had been 10 years since Tuberville had coached at Auburn, but Auburn fans traditionally stick together. I suspect every Auburn football fan in the state voted for Tuberville. It is like one big family. It is not just called the loveliest village on the plains, it is also referred to as the friendliest place you ever visited.
Coincidentally and ironically, Tuberville’s victory is a carbon copy of another Auburn man’s victory for governor 32 years ago. Forrest “Fob” James won the 1978 Governor’s race with the same KISS formula as Tuberville.
James had become wealthy by starting and running a barbell manufacturing company in Opelika. When Fob signed up to run for governor, the press wrote him off as a rich gadfly. Fob quietly used his millions to sign up the most brilliant campaign media strategist in the south, Deloss Walker. Fob was told by Walker ‘never deviate from the script I give you and do not answer any questions.’
There were three heavy weights expected to finish first, second and third. Former Governor Albert Brewer, Attorney General Bill Baxley and Lt. Governor Jere Beasley. As Walker expected, all three spent their time and money beating up on each other while Fob rode a yellow school bus over the state, simply saying ‘I am getting back to the basics, reading, writing and arithmetic.’ Thus, more people vote against someone and the KISS formula.
Walker’s initial polling showed that Fob actually had some name identification from being an Auburn football player in the 1950’s. He was a pretty good halfback. That poll also picked up that Auburn Alumni yearned for an Auburn man to become governor.
In this most recent race, it helped Tuberville immensely that the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA) endorsed him early in his quest. This key endorsement gave him credibility and early impetus. Most of the farmers on the endorsement committee, by the way, are Auburn graduates and Auburn football fans.
The more things change the more they stay the same.
See you next week.
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. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.