October 31, 2020

Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville Close Out Alabama’s G.O.P. Senate Runoff

MOBILE, Ala. — Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican and former attorney general who is trying to reclaim his old Senate seat, on Monday declined to answer directly whether he would support his opponent, Tommy Tuberville, in the general election in the event that Mr. Sessions does not win Tuesday’s runoff race against him.

On his final day of campaigning, which largely involved a lunchtime Cracker Barrel stop and interviews with local Alabama reporters, Mr. Sessions criticized his opponent for his regular refusal to engage with the news media.

“I’d like for y’all to ask Tommy Tuberville of that,” Mr. Sessions told reporters when pressed on whether he could support his rival in November. “What’s he going to — who’s he going to support after the runoff if he loses? Where is he? He’s not available. He’s been hiding out now for two weeks.”

“Look, I’m a strong Republican,” Mr. Sessions added. “We need to win this seat. And I expect to advance that agenda.”

Mr. Sessions was making his final appeal to voters on Monday before Tuesday’s runoff election against Mr. Tuberville, who is leading in the polls. While Alabama voters elected Mr. Sessions to the Senate four times in the past, the former attorney general has faced the enormous problem of stiff opposition from President Trump, who continues to disdain Mr. Sessions for recusing himself from the federal investigation into Russia’s influence in the 2016 election.

Mr. Tuberville, a former Auburn University football coach, has been largely absent from the campaign trail throughout the runoff race, and Monday was no exception. Mr. Tuberville held no public events, his campaign’s final efforts limited to get-out-the-vote calls from staff members and volunteers.

The contentious primary has created an escalating ad war across Alabama, with more than $2.6 million flooding Alabama’s relatively inexpensive television markets over the past two weeks in a torrent of negative attack ads. The Sessions campaign has denounced Mr. Tuberville as “Washington’s choice,” while the Tuberville campaign has repeatedly called Mr. Sessions “weak” (while also highlighting the president’s endorsement of Mr. Tuberville).

But the biggest recent spender in the Alabama Senate race has been the Club for Growth, the conservative anti-tax group, which has recently aligned closely with Mr. Trump. The group is supporting Mr. Tuberville and has spent $1.5 million since July 1, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm, with multiple ads that highlight Mr. Trump’s endorsement of the former football coach.

That has helped Mr. Tuberville pick up support among many Republicans in Alabama, but even White House officials acknowledge that Mr. Tuberville would most likely face a tougher general election against Doug Jones, the state’s Democratic senator, than Mr. Sessions would, given Mr. Tuberville’s lack of political experience.

Mr. Sessions tried to emphasize this point on Monday. “I’ve been vetted. People know me,” he said. “We don’t know what other skeletons might lie in Tuberville’s closet.”

ImagePresident Trump endorsed Mr. Tuberville in the Republican run-off election.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Mr. Sessions said in a brief interview that his recent appearance on Fox News’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” had “electrified” his campaign. He appeared last Tuesday on Mr. Carlson’s show, where the host praised the Republican as “one of the very few politicians I do respect.”

“We had $30,000 — small-dollar contributions — come in right after that,” Mr. Sessions said in between conversations with voters at a Cracker Barrel in Mobile.

It was a notable feat, he added, given that his opponent has had a fund-raising advantage for much of the primary.

Tuesday’s election stands to lay bare the extent to which Mr. Trump has turned Mr. Sessions’s own state against him. Before the Trump era, Mr. Sessions could do virtually no wrong in the eyes of Alabama’s Republicans, winning four Senate elections from 1997 to 2017, in one race without so much as a primary challenger.

But Mr. Trump has made it something of a personal mission to ensure that Mr. Sessions does not return to the Senate.

Accordingly, the president has wholeheartedly embraced Mr. Tuberville despite the candidate’s stances on issues like immigration and trade, which appear to diverge from the Trump agenda.

But on Monday, Mr. Sessions reminded reporters of Mr. Trump’s poor record of endorsements in Alabama elections. “He twice endorsed in the Alabama Senate race,” Mr. Sessions said, “and both times, that candidate did not prevail.”

Nick Corasaniti contributed reporting from New York.