Former Auburn University head coach Tommy Tuberville handily defeated former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate seat Tuesday night in an election heavily influenced by the candidates’ relationships to President Donald Trump.
According to unofficial results reported by the Alabama Secretary of State’s office, Tuberville defeated Sessions 60.74% to 39.26%. Tuberville will face Democrat Doug Jones in the Nov. 3 general election.
Voting in the party primary runoffs was higher than expected. Almost 17.4% of voters statewide cast ballots in the election, which is more than those who voted in the 2014 and 2016 primary runoffs.
In Jefferson County, 15.34% of voters cast ballots. About 71% of those ballots were cast in the Republican primary and about 29% in the Democratic, according to unofficial results reported by the county Board of Registrars office.
Political prognosticators see the defeat as the end of Sessions’ decades-long political career, which started in 1981 with his appointment by President Ronald Reagan as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, a title he held for 12 years. Sessions would springboard a stint as the state’s attorney general, from 1995 to 1997, into a successful U.S. Senate campaign; he held the state’s junior seat in the Senate from 1997 until 2017, when he was appointed U.S. attorney general.
Sessions had gotten that job as a reward for his early endorsement of then-candidate Donald Trump. He was the first U.S. Senator to don the red cap and remains a staunch supporter of the president’s agenda — though Sessions’ relationship with the president frayed over his decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s Russia investigation.
Sessions eventually was forced to resign and returned home to a state that had given his Senate seat to underdog Democrat Doug Jones, who beat out the allegation-plagued Republican Roy Moore in 2017’s special election. As this year’s Republican primary took shape, Sessions found himself challenged by Tuberville and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne. Byrne came in a distant third, but Sessions placed second to Tuberville.
Tuberville’s candidacy was as politically congruent to Trump as possible. Already well known to Alabamians as the former head football coach at Auburn, he positioned himself as a political outsider — one who, unlike establishment candidate Sessions, would defend the president at all costs. He aligned himself unreservedly with the president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, promising to help Trump “drain the swamp” and “build the wall.”
Trump, harboring personal animosity toward Sessions for his perceived betrayal during the Russia investigation, heartily endorsed Tuberville; if not for COVID-19, he would have held a rally with the former coach in Sessions’ hometown of Mobile. Trump hounded Sessions on Twitter, urging Alabamians not to trust him and drawing an acidic, multi-authored tweet in response.
Sessions’ allegations that Tuberville was actually a Florida resident made little impression, as did his attempts to draw voters by highlighting a rift between the Birmingham’s housing authority and school board and the Church of the Highlands. In an email sent to press the day before the election, Sessions claimed that “anti-Trump forces are driving Tuberville’s campaign” and that the big donors would compromise Tuberville’s professed anti-immigration stance.
As election results rolled in Tuesday night, Sessions never surmounted Tuberville’s lead. With 93% of the vote in, he had carried only three counties — Wilcox, Madison, and Mobile — with the rest going in Tuberville’s favor, often with margins of 40 points or greater.
Tuberville now faces Jones in November. In a statement released Tuesday night, Jones highlighted his bipartisan record, calling Tuberville an “unprepared hyper-partisan that will add to the divide in Washington.”
In addition to the Senate race, one other statewide race was on Tuesday’s GOP ballot. In the race for the Republican nomination to the Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 2, Beth Kellum beat out Will Smith 55.66% to 44.34%.
On Jefferson County’s Democratic ballot, Eyrika Parker defeated former state Rep. Rod Scott in the race for the nomination as Jefferson County treasurer. Parker got 57.45% of the vote to Scott’s 42.55%.
Nominations to two congressional seats also were decided Tuesday. James Averhart will be running as the Democratic candidate in the U.S. House of Representatives District 1 race in November. He took 56.74% of the vote Tuesday to Kiani A. Gardner’s 43.26%. He will face Jerry Carl as the Republican candidate. Carl beat Bill Hightower for the Republican nomination to the seat 52.29% to 47.71%.
Barry Moore won the Republican nomination to the House District 2 seat, beating Jeff Coleman 60.45% to 39.55%.
Also on the ballot was the Democratic nomination to the District 5 seat on the State Board of Education. Tonya Smith Chestnut beat Fred Bell with 61.35% of the vote to 38.65% for that nomination.