In a low-turnout primary runoff in Alabama, former senator and attorney general Jeff Sessions has lost decisively to former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville in a contest overshadowed by the president’s fury at Sessions.
The Associated Press called the race less than two hours after polls closed, with Tuberville leading by more than 20 points, and beating Sessions narrowly in Birmingham and Montgomery and heavily in rural counties across the state. Sessions may reduce Tubs’s lead when his southwest Alabama home turf near Mobile County reports, but he has no real chance to win. Unlike most primary states this spring and summer, Alabama did nothing to liberalize its tight restrictions on absentee voting for the primaries, so the terrible in-person turnout for this runoff wasn’t much expanded by mail ballots.
So Tuberville’s Election Night lead is safe.
It’s quite the dismal ending for the once-meteoric political career of Jeff Sessions, who at 73 has probably lost his one comeback bid in failing to regain the Senate seat he easily held from 1996 until he voluntarily gave it up in 2017. The last time Jeff Sessions faced Alabama voters, in 2014, he had no Republican or Democratic opposition. In 2016, he was the first, and for a good while, the only senator to guess right on a presidential candidate by endorsing Donald Trump. And then he was handed every lawyer’s dream job by being nominated and confirmed as Trump’s attorney general.
It all turned inside out, of course, when Sessions followed standard lawyerly protocol by recusing himself from a Justice Department investigation of contacts between the Trump campaign (in which he was an officer) and representatives of Trump’s fans in Moscow. Sessions didn’t protect Trump from what became the Mueller investigation, and that wiped out all the debts the president owed to his first senatorial supporter and ideological comrade.
After pushing Sessions out of Washington, Trump frequently insulted him for his alleged betrayal. And when the former senior senator from Alabama decided on attempting a comeback to win the seat he held so effortlessly for so long, Trump endorsed Tuberville immediately after the Auburn coach landed a runoff spot against Sessions, edging him in a multi-candidate primary in early March, just before the coronavirus pandemic really took off, delaying the runoff by several months.
So Trump doesn’t have to wait for the consummation of his revenge on Jeff Sessions. And he will also probably feel vindicated in his bond with Alabama voters. His favored candidate in the 2017 special election to complete Sessions’s term lost in the primary to the candidate who then lost to Democrat Doug Jones, who begins the general election as a slight underdog to Tuberville.
Now Tuberville is no Roy Moore, the 2017 Republican nominee against Jones; he has less ideological and ethical baggage than that famously theocratic gadfly with a history of credible sexual misconduct allegations involving underage girls. But he’s a political novice, with proximity to financial fraud in his recent history, and is running on a message of fidelity to Trump that seems slack-jawed even by MAGA standards. It’s no secret that Team Jones preferred to take on Tubs rather than his seasoned opponent. It will be an interesting race that may depend on whether Joe Biden cuts into Trump’s lead even in places like Alabama enough to trim the president’s coattails.
Without question, though, this is a painful moment in a painful year for Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who is doing about as well politically as the Confederate icons for whom he was named. Had he not hitched his wagon to the ascending comet of Donald Trump, he would probably be cruising to reelection and happily supporting the most reactionary features of the 45th president’s agenda as we speak.