Will we ever get past the Trump era in Alabama Republican politics?
Don’t get the wrong idea. The Trump era for the country has been great. The whole impeachment thing aside, the economy has improved the quality of life for most people, whether they actually like him personally or not.
But as far as Alabama’s own in-state elections, can you solely say “a vote for me is a vote for Donald Trump” and win?
Former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville, a candidate for U.S. Senate, is going to try. His latest radio spot demonstrates as much:
“I’m going to stand with President Donald Trump on building the wall and cracking down on illegal immigration. A vote for me is a vote for Donald Trump. I’m not looking for a career. I’m looking to help save this country with Donald J. Trump.”
Here’s where there seems to be a misinterpretation. Yes, Alabama Republicans like Donald Trump. But do they want you to live and die at the temple of Trump?
If that were the case, Luther Strange would still be a U.S. Senator. Twinkle Cavanaugh would be Alabama’s lieutenant governor. Strange had Trump come to Huntsville and campaign for him in his 2017 special election primary runoff.
He lost to Roy Moore.
Cavanaugh ran one of the most shameless Trumpian TV spots of the 2018 campaign cycle. In it, Cavanaugh borrowed the “promises made, promises kept” slogan of the day, and appeared side by side with Trump, looking almost as if she and Trump were separated at birth.
She lost to Will Ainsworth, who would eventually become Alabama’s lieutenant governor.
Meanwhile, each of the GOP senatorial campaigns is waiting, wondering, speculating — what will @realDonaldTrump tweet about this election?
Imagine thinking your entire existence for the last several months running an election campaign could be turned on its head by an impulsive social media post from the leader of the free world.
That has to be tough, but it probably is not exactly the reality.
Trump does matter in the 2020 Republican race for the U.S. Senate nod. How much it matters is the question.
For this discussion, consider two possibilities: high turnout and low turnout.
For the sake of a high turnout, it might not matter as much. A broader electorate probably does not have Trump’s Twitter account fresh on its mind. There is a school of thought that this will be a high-turnout event.
Donald Trump is on the ballot. Republicans love Donald Trump. Republicans will wait in line to vote for Donald Trump.
Who does that favor? It could favor former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. There is a wholesale familiarity with Sessions. If you do not keep up and follow the election as carefully, you might fill in an oval for Sessions because you came for Trump.
The low-turnout situation, and in my opinion, the more likely, is much more intriguing.
The electorate in this state is very nationally focused. Fox News is on in a lot of homes in Alabama. What will Fox News and the rest of the national media be focused on come late February?
In all likelihood, it will be the Democrat side of the ticket and who will be that party’s nominee to take on Trump in November. Republicans in Alabama might say, “We have our nominee. I’m staying home today.”
Those who do show up to vote — they are going to be the diehards. They are going to be folks emotionally swayed by politics, and perhaps still stuck on Sessions’ 2017 decision to recuse himself from the Department of Justice’s investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
We know these folks will show up to vote on primary day.
If the polling is correct, Sessions is at minimum a lock for the runoff and is in striking distance of avoiding the runoff with a 50 percent-plus-1 tally on March 3.
The race for second place, who is running for the opportunity to face Sessions in the runoff, is coming down to Tuberville and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne.
All three of these candidates have their issues regarding Trump. There is Sessions’ well-documented recusal. For Byrne, there is his October 2016 call for Trump to step aside and allow Mike Pence to assume the Republican nomination on the heels of the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape. For Tuberville, perhaps not as publicized, was a series of misguided remarks he made criticizing Trump’s handling of veterans’ issues at a Republican event in the Shoals.
The issue here for each of these candidates to overcome is not demonstrating how aligned one is with Donald Trump, but instead refuting the perception they are working against Trump.
Where that could matter is in the March 31 runoff, if there is one.
One thing we know, turnout for that election will be low. There will be no Donald Trump on the ballot. However, there could be a spike with the possibility of runoffs in two congressional races in the bottom half of the state.
If any of these campaigns think all they need to do is carpet-bomb Alabama’s five media markets with, “Hey, look at me! I’m just like Donald Trump” ads, they will lose.
History shows us that.
The way things are going now, that could be a lesson we are forced to learn again.
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