By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Republican Tommy Tuberville on Friday declined to commit to debating incumbent Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race, while Jones suggested that Tuberville is scared to do so.
Republicans are seeking to reclaim the Senate seat from Jones, who won a 2017 special election. Tuberville on Tuesday handily defeated Jeff Sessions to win the Republican nomination and enters the race as a strong challenger in the once reliably red state.
“We’ll sort through the invitations and then we’ll decide,” Tuberville said in a telephone interview, before suggesting that party labels and loyalty tell voters all they need to know, a sign of the partisan frame his camp will put on the race over the next 100 days.
“The difference is, he takes his marching orders from the Democratic side … and I stand with President Trump. So, you know, if you think about it, that pretty much tells most of the people in Alabama, all the voters, what they need to know,” Tuberville said.
Jones said in a separate interview that voters deserve a debate.
“Look, he didn’t debate Jeff Sessions and so I’m confident he’s going to be too afraid to debate me, because I do have a record that he can’t just slap a label on when he’s on the debate stage,” Jones said.
The Alabama election is shaping up to be a rollicking race with partisan control of the U.S. Senate at stake and Jones is signaling he will not cede without an aggressive fight.
Tuberville on Friday credited his primary runoff win over Sessions, who held the seat for 20 years, to being a political outsider.
“I’m here to represent them and not Washington, D.C. I’m an outsider. I’ve got a great work ethic. I’ve got a lot of energy and I want to go help the people of the state,” Tuberville said.
A centerpiece of his primary runoff campaign was his endorsement by President Donald Trump, a message he will continue into the fall. Trump won Alabama in 2016 with 62% of the vote.
“There’s a total difference. You know, he believes in abortion. … He voted against Brett Kavanaugh. He voted to impeach President Trump,” Tuberville said, contrasting himself with his opponent.
Jones is emphasizing his bipartisan record, describing himself as someone who both works with the president — noting he has had 17 bipartisan bills signed into law by Trump — and stands up to him.
“My message is going to be look back at what we’ve done in the last two and a half years,” Jones said.
Jones said the vote in Trump’s impeachment trial was one of hundreds and that voters who base their decision on that single decision “weren’t going to vote for me anyway.”
“You know, Tommy Tuberville was a fine football coach, but he moved to Alabama 18 months ago just to run for the Senate and said why he ran for the Senate is because he wanted to help Donald Trump, not the people of Alabama. He wanted to help Donald Trump. Well, I want to help the people of Alabama, and that’s what we’ve done,” Jones said.
The two candidates expressed different views of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s announcement of an order requiring face coverings in public places to try to curb the state’s rising COVID-19 cases. More than 60,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 1,400 are hospitalized with the disease.
Jones said Ivey did the right thing.
“I know we all want to move past this deadly, disruptive pandemic & we can help do this by wearing a mask & social distancing. We can each do our part to protect lives & livelihoods,” Jones wrote on Twitter.
Tuberville said he supports the voluntary wearing of masks but said, “I don’t believe government should come in and tell us what to do in terms of that.” He said it should be common sense to wear a mask around someone with underlying health conditions.
“If we have to have our government continue to run our lives and tell us every little thing to do, sooner or later, they’re going to tell us when we can drive.”