By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
GARDENDALE, Ala. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, often called the Senate’s most endangered Democrat, will try to pull off another Deep South win Tuesday as former college football coach Tommy Tuberville tries to recapture the seat once reliably held by Republicans.
The race pits the incumbent former U.S. attorney, who has positioned himself as a moderate, against Tuberville, who has made support for President Donald Trump the central pillar of his campaign. The outcome could impact partisan control of the U.S. Senate where Republicans now hold a majority, but are in tough battles in several states.
Jones, a former U.S. attorney best known for prosecuting Klansmen who bombed a Birmingham church in 1963, three years ago became the first Alabama Democrat elected to the Senate in a quarter century. In an interview with The Associated Press, Jones said he holds no illusions that this race will be easier than three years ago.
“This is a slugfest. It’s an uphill battle. We’re battling tribalism,” Jones said in adding that he thinks it is a winnable race.
In campaign stops, he has emphasized his bipartisan record and urged people not to listen to what he called “damn lies” such as an ad calling the avid hunter and gun collector a supporter of “gun grabbers” because he supports some gun control measures such as expanded background checks.
“Go back and look at my record. Examine, take the time to look at what all I’ve done for veterans and talk to them, what we’ve done for teachers, what we’ve done in healthcare. …If you think a coach who quit on the last four football teams and told his students to go to hell when they gave him a hard time, versus somebody who has tried to lead and represent all of Alabama, then make that choice,” Jones said, referencing a time that Tuberville yelled at hecklers while leaving the field.
Former President Barack Obama recorded a robocall that went out Sunday night urging Alabama voters to get to the polls for Jones and the Democratic presidential ticket. Obama cited Jones’ record of prosecuting Klansmen and fighting for “our jobs, our healthcare,” in the call paid for by the state Democratic Party Executive Committee.
“Vote to leave no doubt about what this country stands for today and all our days to come,” Obama said.
At a Sunday rally in Gardendale, which Tuberville said was his final stop of the race, Tuberville ended with the same message he began his campaign with: Fealty to Trump, saying that God sent Trump to the Oval Office.
“I’ve said this several times. People say, ‘Ah you don’t believe that.’ Hell yeah, I do believe it. God sent us and elected Donald Trump,” Tuberville said to applause.
During his 10-minute speech, Tuberville spoke mostly of the national political landscape, barely mentioning Jones and saying he was nervous not for his race, but others around the country.
“I’m going to speak for you, the people of the state of Alabama. The guy I’m running against hasn’t done that one time. We are going to send him to California where he raised all his money,” Tuberville said as he closed.
Tuberville, armed with name recognition from years as a college football coach and Trump’s endorsement, defeated former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in this summer’s GOP runoff, blocking Sessions’ hope of a political comeback.
After he spoke to a crowd of about 100 people, Tuberville autographed yard signs and posed for pictures with both political and football fans.
Tuberville has limited media appearances and refused to debate the incumbent. Jones has called Tuberville “Coach Clueless” saying he is unprepared to be senator or answer questions about policy. Tuberville told The Associated Press on Sunday that he saw no need to debate Jones.
Jones spent the weekend in a busy series of stops around Birmingham and the Alabama’s Black Belt. His campaign emphasized an article from Slate with some of Tuberville’s former players questioning his qualifications to be senator.
“Tuberville is obviously trying to run the ball and grind out the clock and Jones is trying to throw everything he has at it,” said David Mowery, an Alabama-based political consultant.
Tuberville has tried to capitalize on a few of the votes that Jones took, including his February vote to remove Trump from office. Jones said he voted that way after a careful examination of the evidence in the impeachment trial.
“This was not about Republicans and Democrats, it was really not about Donald Trump, it was about the constitution and what we believe that should be the behavior of our President,” Jones said.
Jones is expected to benefit from an aggressive GOTV effort and a campaign that has outspent Tuberville by 4-1.
But the math gets difficult for Jones in a state where Democratic candidates frequently top out with around 40% on the vote. Mowery said Trump won 62% of the vote in Alabama four years ago.
Eddie Culpepper, a 63-year-old Gardendale business owner, said he didn’t support Jones’ opponent Roy Moore three years ago because he thought Moore was “too far right.” He is voting straight Republican this year and says he thinks Jones leans “too left.”
“I think Senator Jones, he is a good guy. He’s done a lot of good things. But right now, I feel like he’s almost like a puppet. He is trying to please a lot of people,” Culpepper said.
Cosette Frazier, a 56-year employee at Lockheed Martin, came to hear Jones speak at a drive-in rally in Troy in late October. Wearing a mask that paid tribute to the late civil rights icon John Lewis she said Jones’ election three years ago “felt outstanding” in a state often dominated by conservative Republicans.
“I think Doug has a good chance, although Alabama is a red state, Democrats live here,” Frazier said.