By Michael Foley
“Athletics is what distinguishes us from other countries around the world,” U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville has said of the most obese nation in the world. That statement encapsulates Tuberville’s whole resume for the job he’s seeking: forty years as a football coach, including a 13-0 season as the head coach of Auburn. That’s the entirety of his qualification for public office, unless you count his part-ownership in a hedge fund that defrauded clients out of more than a million dollars. And yet, Tuberville is leading incumbent Democrat Senator Doug Jones in virtually all polls.
The reasons for that are obvious enough. Jones’s 2017 special election victory in Alabama for the seat he now holds was a shock to many, and likely wouldn’t have happened if he’d been facing an opponent even a touch less controversial than Roy Moore. Alabama is generally as solid Republican as states come, and Republicans fully expect to right the ship with Tuberville this November.
Beyond his coaching record, Tuberville’s entire platform is an undying support for any and all things Donald Trump may do. He has said that “God sent us Donald Trump.” That will likely play well in Alabama, where Trump won sixty-three per cent of the vote in 2016, and is likely to do well again this November. But the problem with Tuberville’s platform is that Trump’s re-election is far from a sure thing. Tuberville hasn’t discussed how he would act as a senator under a Joe Biden presidency.
We do know that COVID-19 will still be an important issue come January, and Tuberville has shirked safety guidelines, from not wearing masks and social distancing, to refusing to follow Washington D.C.’s visitor quarantine protocol. We know that, by his own admission, he “wouldn’t have a clue” how to address COVID-19. We know that he opposes mask mandates. We know that he wants to repeal (and not replace) the Affordable Care Act, even at the cost of jobs and lives. We know that he’s a big fan of the expensive, ineffective border wall. We know that he has called for the Department of Education to be disbanded, claiming that students are being indoctrinated in communism and socialism. We know that he equates abortion to the Holocaust. And we know that he considers Islam a uniquely violent religion, and opposes discrimination protections for the LGBTQ+ community.
That’s about it. I don’t just mean that that’s all we know about where he stands on the issues; that’s as in-depth as he has been willing to go on actual policy. Tuberville doesn’t seem to think voters need to hear actual policy plans. In defending his reluctance to debate with Senator Jones, he has suggested that party loyalty is all voters need to decide.
On the other hand, we have a very clear picture of what kind of statesman Doug Jones is. He has been critical of the costs associated with the border wall. He wants economic relief for his constituents. He has championed improving access to rural healthcare. He partnered with Republicans to secure disaster relief funding for farmers affected by Hurricane Michael. In fact, despite voting to remove Donald Trump from office in the impeachment trial, Jones is considered a moderate, voting with Trump-approved legislation more consistently than forty-two other Senate Democrats. That may not earn him great popularity among progressives nationwide, but it’s necessary for someone in a state like Alabama.
And, to be clear, he is no Democrat-in-name-only. His voting record with Trump is still only thirty-five per cent, just enough to be able to label himself bipartisan, which is the core of his campaign strategy, as is the case with another vulnerable senator, Republican Susan Collins. He is proud of his record of working across party lines, and has (rightly) called Tuberville “an unprepared hyper-partisan that will add to the divide in Washington.”
But, as I have said, Senator Jones has no easy path to re-election. FiveThirtyEight polls show Tuberville winning 50-40, AL Daily News/Mason-Dixon polls show Tuberville winning 50-42, Auburn University at Montgomery polls show Tuberville winning 44-36, and Jones’s own internal polling shows Tuberville winning 47-44. But we’re still a long way from November; at this point in the 2017 special election race, that Jones may actually win was laughable. And just as Roy Moore’s campaign sunk in controversy, we can surely expect to see a closer light shone on Tommy Tuberville’s past. There’s the fraud scandal, of course, but there’s also the fact that in 1999, Tuberville allowed an Auburn player charged with rape to remain on the team, and that his wife was investigated for manslaughter after running a red light and striking an elderly couple’s car in 2011. Tuberville escaped serious scrutiny for these issues during his Republican primary campaign against Jeff Sessions, but that’s unlikely to hold against Jones.
Senator Jones also has the distinct advantage of being one of the most prolific fundraisers among Senate Democrats. In fact, he currently has about sixteen times as much campaign money on-hand as Tuberville. We can expect his campaign to pour that cash into social media and television ads in the coming months.
And if Tuberville’s football record really does matter, as his supporters believe, then Doug Jones certainly still has hope. Tuberville has a storied history of losing to underdogs, like in the 2006 Capital One Bowl, where he lost to Wisconsin 24-10; or the 2008 Iron Bowl, where he lost to Alabama 36-0, or when he lost to the loveable loser Vanderbilt 14-13.
Doug Jones currently stands as a beacon of progress in the conservative South. Alabamans have a chance to show whether they want that progress to continue this November.