By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Republicans in Alabama are attempting to reclaim a U.S. Senate seat that was taken away from them three years ago in once reliably red Alabama.
Democratic Sen. Doug Jones is being challenged by Republican former college football coach Tommy Tuberville.
Tuberville has limited public appearances and refused to debate the incumbent. He is expected to benefit from straight-ticket voting and President Donald Trump’s endorsement in a state where Trump remains popular among white voters.
The outcome of the race could affect partisan control of the U.S. Senate, which Republicans currently control 53-47.
The Democratic incumbent has run an aggressive campaign, emphasizing his bipartisan record and health care issues such as his support for the Affordable Care Act. He has also questioned Tuberville’s knowledge and readiness for office.
Jones, a former U.S. attorney best known for prosecuting Ku Klux Klansmen who bombed a Birmingham church in 1963, three years ago became the first Alabama Democrat elected to the Senate in a quarter century. He defeated Roy Moore, who was accused of pursuing romantic and sexual relationships with teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
During a candidate forum with students at Auburn University, where Tuberville once coached, Jones fielded a question about whether a Democrat could represent the interests of Alabamians.
“I have no idea what they are talking about when someone says that,” he said. “Does it mean I’m not going to represent the farmers like I’ve been doing? Does it mean I’m not going to represent the military like I’ve done for the last two years, and help upgrade our nuclear triad and our military folks?”
“Alabama is not monolithic. We are a diverse state. …. The goal is to try to find common ground,” he added.
Tuberville, armed with name recognition thanks to Trump’s endorsement and the years he spent coaching college football, defeated former Attorney General and Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions in this summer’s GOP runoff, blocking Sessions’ hope of a political comeback.
Positioning himself as a political outsider, Tuberville has emphasized his support for Trump.
“I’m going to stand with President Trump to finish the border wall, cut your taxes, and protect life,” Tuberville said in an ad. His last comment was a reference to his opposition to abortion.
Tuberville also has pointed to actions taken by Jones that he says are not in sync with the state’s conservative voters, including his February vote to remove Trump during the impeachment trial and refusal to confirm two of Trump’s appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court.
David Mowery, an Alabama-based political consultant, said the path for a Democrat is harder in Alabama than some other Southern states that are beginning to turn purple.
“We’re a Republican state. We don’t have a growing suburban area,” he said. “Those types of issues aren’t roiling our populace, for better or for worse. We don’t have the diversity that a Georgia has, or a North Carolina has.”