By KIM CHANDLER Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Democratic Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama called Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville “Coach Clueless” on Friday, stepping up attacks on the former college football coach for his recent comments about the coronavirus.
In a live-streamed campaign event, Jones criticized Tuberville’s reaction to tapes of President Donald Trump saying in February that he knew the severity of the coronavirus. Trump said he downplayed the threat to avoid public panic. Tuberville, a former college football coach, told FOX10 said he didn’t see the report. But he later issued a statement saying the “fake news” would criticize Trump no matter what.
“My opponent, who I call Coach Clueless, indicated he doesn’t watch the news so he didn’t know anything about it, which I believe is just a way to avoid the media’s questions,” Jones said in stepping up political attacks on his rival.
Republicans are seeking with Tuberville to reclaim the Senate seat from Jones, who won a 2017 special election. A Deep South Democrat, Jones faces an uphill battle in his fight to hang onto the seat in the once-reliably red state.
A former coach at Auburn University among other college posts, Tuberville has made his support for Trump a centerpiece of his campaign. The contest is shaping up as an expensive and contentious slugfest.
But Jones said blind loyalty to any elected official is wrong.
“I think Coach Clueless’ comments really reflect the fact that he is always going to support Donald Trump, no matter what. … People will not stand up and speak out even when they know the president is wrong and should be called to account for it,” Jones said.
The Tuberville campaign responded on Friday by saying it was it was highly inappropriate for Jones to hold “a negative attack news conference” on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“And Doug Jones should have recognized that simple fact,” Tuberville campaign manager Paul Shashy wrote in an email.
Jones began the news conference with remarks about the 9/11 anniversary.
Jones said he was concerned over Trump saying he had downplayed the threat posed by the coronavirus.
“Folks, you don’t downplay something that could kill people like this. You don’t downplay hurricanes. You don’t downplay tornadoes. You don’t downplay those things that you know put people’s lives and their livelihoods in jeopardy,” Jones said.
During Friday’s campaign event, Jones and Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Chris England urged people to take advantage of absentee voting that began this week. The Alabama secretary of state has said people can vote by absentee ballot if they are concerned about COVID-19 at the polls.
“Every day in Alabama is Election Day. It is one of those rare occasions that we have in Alabama to vote at your convenience and not just the convenience of the state and to do it safely, securely, without worry about whether the Postal Service will deliver the mail on time,” Jones said.
Armed with Trump’s endorsement Tuberville won the GOP nomination over Jeff Sessions in the July GOP primary runoff. Sessions held the Alabama seat for 20 years before resigning to become Trump’s first attorney general, but was wounded by his fallout with Trump as he sought a political comeback.