Jeff Sessions’ path to regaining a place in the U.S. Senate may have gotten a little bit easier. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill decided to end his own run for Senate yesterday specifically citing the ex-Attorney General’s entry into the race in his campaign suspension announcement on Facebook.
With the announcement by Senator Jeff Sessions on November 7th, the dynamics of this election have changed dramatically. When I entered the race on June 25th, I, along with my family and closest supporters, saw a path to victory. We met our initial goals and had six months of successful fundraising. We actually led the third-quarter in fundraising for all Republican candidates. With Senator Sessions’ late entry into this race, we have come to realize that a crowded Republican primary only benefits Doug Jones and the out of touch liberal Democrats. Therefore, after thoughtful consideration, much prayer, some honest discussions with my family and campaign team, I have decided to suspend my campaign for the United State(s) Senate, effective immediately. I am honored by the support and encouragement we have received and I look forward to my continued service to the people in our state as Alabama’s Secretary of State.
Merrill’s exit wasn’t a shock as his polling numbers dropped 50% after Sessions got into the race early last month. The only candidates who stayed buoyant appear to be former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who went from the upper 20’s to lower 20’s, and Roy Moore, who went from 13% to 11%. There’s obviously still plenty of time left before the 2020 election so it’s possible the poll numbers could shift around a bit. Sessions is angling for Merrill’s supporters to drift towards his candidacy.
It does appear the Republican nomination is Jeff Sessions’ to lose although Tuberville can make it interesting if he stays relevant.
A part of it could depend on whether Sessions can make up with President Donald Trump over the Mueller Report. Sessions has set himself up as a Trump loyalist whose policy goals are extremely similar to the President’s, which is extremely true save for justice reform. He made several appearances on FOX News in early November hoping to rebuild a bridge or three although Sessions did not take back any of his decisions while Attorney General. It’s certainly possible this lack of an apology for his tenure as head of the Justice Department might cause Trump to stay away from Sessions the U.S. Senate candidate.
This is where Tuberville comes in. He’s also set himself up as a populist Trump loyalist who wants to bring the Alabama Senate seat back into Republican hands. Should he be able to keep his poll numbers at least within 10% of Sessions (he’s currently 13% behind) it’s possible he could get a Trump endorsement to push him closer to Sessions. Trump, for those wondering, is not expected to campaign against Sessions which might be the second-best thing he can hope for outside of an endorsement.
Tuberville has one problem: he’s the former Auburn coach. Politics may be tribal but the Alabama-Auburn rivalry cannot be ignored and, as weird as it sounds, I have serious doubts the Crimson Tide bloc will go for an ex-Tigers coach. Tuberville is doing what he can to mitigate this problem by citing his outsider status and the fact he’s a conservative Christian as reasons to send him to Washington, DC.
Will it be enough? Probably not. Sessions is too popular and the Auburn problem, especially after this weekend’s Iron Bowl (I know someone whose father worked in “Auburn cheats” into his Sunday sermon), may not give Tuberville the support he needs to win the March primary.
Of course, all this depends on if Republicans can beat incumbent Senator Doug Jones. Morning Consult put the Democrat at 41% approval in their rankings back in the Third Quarter of this year. It’s in the lower quadrant however the most disliked senator is Bob Menendez, who still gets re-elected campaign cycle after campaign cycle. Take that for what you will, especially given the finicky nature of the voting populace. Jones is doing all he can to stay out of the impeachment situation by calling it “troubling” but not passing judgment at all on Trump’s talks with Ukraine. He’s trying to play both sides, as politicians are wont to do, but whether Jones will change strategy as the November 2020 election gets closer is yet to be determined.
The election is probably Sessions’ to lose especially if it comes into the usual Red vs. Blue tribalism American politics has descended into over the past 40 years. The only questions are whether Alabama Trump supporters are willing to forgive Sessions for the ‘sin’ of recusal (he did the right thing, y’all) and whether Trump is willing to remember the previous and future support he’ll receive from Sessions.