With the national media’s focus on first the coronavirus pandemic and now the protests and anarchy in the wake of that incident in Minnesota, little national attention is being given to a U.S. Senate race in Alabama.
It’s an interesting story though, and one that would get more play if these were “less interesting times” to paraphrase the saying that can be more of a curse than a blessing.
Former football coach Tommy Tuberville and former senator and attorney general Jeff Sessions are facing each other in the Alabama Republican primary June 14.
Tuberville, who has the backing of President Trump, was leading in most of the polling through the middle of May.
The winner will face the current senator, Doug Jones, a Democrat who won a special election to replace Sessions when the latter was appointed by Trump as U.S. attorney general in 2017.
Jones’ win is considered a fluke in red state Alabama, and Tuberville or Sessions is expected by many to become the next senator.
Tuberville is of more than passing interest in Mississippi, especially among Ole Miss football fans, because of his infamous “pine box” quote when he was being courted as Auburn’s coach.
Hired as the Ole Miss head football coach in 1995 in the wake of the school being placed on probation, with scholarship reductions and other sanctions, Tuberville did a great job or resurrecting the program.
By 1998, with the sanctions lifted and the Rebels again competitive, the popular coach was gaining the attention of competing schools.
As speculation mounted that he was going to Auburn, Tuberville, in claiming his allegiance to Ole Miss, declared on a radio program, “They’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box.”
A couple of days later he was headed to the Alabama institution, not in a pine box, but in an airplane.
There he coached for 10 years with a remarkable record including one undefeated season and going 7 and 3 against archrival Alabama.
He later coached at Texas Tech and Cincinnati, but it was at Auburn where he was most successful and in Alabama where he is most popular.
It is doubtful Tuberville would be a viable candidate for mayor of Oxford — Mississippi, that is; there is an Oxford in Alabama.
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, meanwhile, served as one of Alabama’s U.S. senators for 20 years, including the years Tuberville was coaching at Auburn.
In 2016, Sessions was among the early supporters of Donald Trump for president. Byron York, chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner, recently wrote that Sessions “was the first important national figure in government to endorse” Trump, and that endorsement was an “important boost for Trump, whom other Republicans were dismissing at the time.”
After his election, Trump appointed Sessions his attorney general, and Sessions worked hard to support Trump’s agenda. But, to quote from York’s recent column, the relationship between Trump and Sessions “went to hell” when Sessions recused himself from supervising the Trump-Russia investigation.
Trump blames much of the Mueller probe on Sessions, and, according to York, “never forgave him.”
He has mocked Sessions’ Southern accent, and has repeatedly, through tweets, urged Alabamians to elect Tuberville.
It’s probably worth noting that Trump was unsuccessful in helping elect Sessions' successor as senator in 2017. He first backed losing Republican primary candidate Lamar Strange and then losing Republican candidate Roy Moore who had to contend with allegations of past sexual misconduct.
I don’t know how much Trump’s vindictiveness against Sessions will help Tuberville, but I’m pretty sure the Trump endorsement isn’t hurting him.
The ironic thing is you can’t get much more conservative than Sessions who has always maintained that he was lawfully bound to recuse himself from the Russia investigation because of his role in the Trump campaign.
But loyalty and retribution on those he considers disloyal mean more to the president than principle or conservatism.