Sessions Fights For His Political Life As Trump Looms Over Alabama Senate Race
Veterans recently gathered next to the USS Alabama battleship in Mobile Bay to support former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Let’s hear it for the man of the hour, former and future Senator from Alabama, honorable veteran Jeff Sessions,” said Brig in retirement. General Richard Allen said when introducing sessions.
But the crowd was sparse. And only one television camera showed up, even though the gig was in his hometown of Mobile, Ala.
Sessions fights for his political life in a Republican runoff election for his old seat in the Alabama Senate. The 73-year-old meets a political freshman, former Auburn University soccer coach Tommy Tuberville, who has a double-digit advantage according to recent polls. Tuesday’s runoff winner will advance to the general election to face Senator Doug Jones, the most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate and the GOP’s best shot to win a Democratic seat.
While Sessions promotes local endorsements, his opponent has one of the most popular politicians in this deep red state: President Trump.
Sessions says it is not up to Washington to dictate the race.
“The president can confirm who he wants,” he said. “But the people of Alabama will decide this race.”
Sessions is in a completely different position than in 2016, when crowds cheered him on in Mobile when he performed with then-candidate Donald Trump. Sessions was one of the first Deep South politicians to support him.
“We have a man here who really helped me,” Trump said at the time. “He’s the only person I’ve asked for advice because he’s so accurate.”
Sessions served 20 years in the Senate and were the leading voice against illegal immigration long before Trump called for a border wall. Sessions argues that he remains the candidate who best fits the president’s agenda.
But he is now most tied to his difficult tenure in the Trump administration and his decision to back out of special adviser Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Sessions was ousted as attorney general in 2018 after being repeatedly ridiculed by Trump for calling Sessions a “disaster”.
“I know he has his strong feelings for this race,” said Sessions. “I know he’s upset by the long, drawn-out investigations that have really disrupted his life and made it difficult for him to govern effectively in many ways.”
Sessions says he has an obligation to obey the law.
“I did my duty when I saw it,” he said. “And I think in the long run it worked.”
On Saturday, Trump went back to Twitter to support Tuberville. “”[H]We are a winner who will never let you down, “wrote Trump.” Jeff Sessions is a disaster that has let us all down. We don’t want him back in Washington! “
The meetings reacted more forcefully than in the past: “My honor and integrity are far more important than these youthful insults.”
Tuberville’s campaign sought to exploit the notion that sessions are now damaged goods.
“You can’t fake it. You’re either strong or not. Jeff Sessions he’s not,” the former Auburn coach said in an ad in a gym with lifters behind him. “He wasn’t human enough to stand with President Trump when things got tough.”
The ad also shows a clip of Tuberville walking down the steps of Air Force One with Trump on a June trip to Dallas.
Tuberville was nicknamed “The Riverboat Gambler” for taking risks on the football field during his coaching career. With a head start on the polls, however, he took few risks in this runoff election, which was postponed from March to July due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tuberville has refused to debate and is generally avoiding the media in the run-up to Tuesday’s vote.
With no political record, he was tested for his role in a hedge fund cheating on investors, and Sessions criticized him for living in Florida before returning to Alabama to run for the Senate.
But out on the field, Tuberville is getting celebrity coach treatment in a state where college football is the holy grail.
“What’s the matter, Coach Tub?” Fans asked in a Facebook video about Tuberville’s visit to a Trump honor boat parade in Orange Beach on the weekend of July 4th.
“I need your vote to send a US Senator to Washington DC to represent this state, this country and Donald Trump,” Tuberville tells people packed on boats with Trump 2020 campaign flags.
Back at Battleship Park in Mobile, Reginald Hartz, a veteran who served in the Iraq and Gulf War, said he was torn as to which Republican to vote for. He’s a Trump supporter but says the president’s humiliating tweets about sessions aren’t a factor for him.
“Just a fool, it’s childish to me,” he said.
Hartz believes the race depends on whether Alabama needs a political outsider or someone who knows the halls of power.
“I’m an Auburn fan, but you have a career politician against a man who has never set foot and knows very little about politics,” said Hartz.
Whichever candidate wins the GOP runoff has the advantage of running against Democrat Jones in November in a state where Trump has his highest net approval rating in the country.
Copyright 2020 NPR. Further information is available at https://www.npr.org.
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