With the nation’s attention focused on the squabbles between the Democratic presidential primary contenders, a down-ballot Republican primary race for one of Alabama’s Senate seats is getting down and dirty itself.
The three top Republicans vying for a chance to take on incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala. -- former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, and Rep. Bradley Byrne – have each launched a series of nasty ads slamming one another and fighting for who is most aligned with President Trump.
The war of words kicked off last weekend when Byrne, who has represented the state’s 1st Congressional District since 2014, released an ad featuring actors playing Sessions and Tuberville interviewing for the Senate jobs while being criticized for their records.
"He let the president down and got fired,” one of the actors says of Sessions in the ad.
Another actor chimes in: “And Hillary still ain’t in jail.”
The Hillary line dredges up the “Lock Her Up” chant that was common at rallies during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign when he ran against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The ad also slams Tuberville for past comments on immigration, claiming Tuberville wants "illegals here” and for taking a multimillion buyout to leave his head coaching spot at Auburn.
Both Sessions and Tuberville, however, quickly hit back at Byrne – and each other – with ads of their own.
Despite releasing a statement on Monday denouncing the negative attack ad by Byrne, Sessions’ campaign quickly released its own on the same day – touting his early endorsement of Trump in March 2016, while blasting Byrne saying Trump “was not fit” to be president in the aftermath of the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape where Trump used profane language and described how he groped women.
“Byrne stood with the liberals, said Trump ‘was not fit’ to be president and stabbed Trump in the back right before the election,” the ad says.
On Tuberville, Sessions’ add mocks the football coach as “a tourist in Alabama” and that he actually “lives, votes and pays taxes in Florida.” Tuberville admitted last year that he moved to Alabama in 2018 with an eye on entering politics.
Sessions is running for the same Senate seat he vacated in 2017 when he was nominated by Trump to be the attorney general. In a surprising turn after Sessions joined the administration, Jones defeated Roy Moore, the controversial former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, in a close race.
Tuberville’s ad hits Byrne for his “not fit” comments while accusing Sessions of “deserting” Trump and “sticking us with the Russian witch hunt.”
Then, in a non sequitur, the ad tacks in a different direction and attacks Utah Sen. Mitt Romney – the only Republican to vote to convict on an article of impeachment against Trump. While Romney has become a frequent target of derision for Trump and his allies, the Utah lawmaker has not weighed in on the Alabama race.
The ads come as the primary races enters its final weeks before the March 3 vote on Super Tuesday.
A recent poll by Alabama Daily News found Sessions and Tuberville locked in a tight race, garnering 31 percent and 29 percent respectively, while Byrne pulls in 17 percent. Moore, who is also running for the nomination, got 5 percent.
According to Alabama law, if no candidate earns more than 50 percent of the vote in a primary election, the contest goes to a runoff between the candidates with the top two vote totals. This seems likely given the number of candidates in the race and the closeness of the polling numbers.
Whoever eventually wins the nomination, however, seems likely to defeat Jones in the general elections as polls indicate that Sessions, Tuberville and Byrne all hold sizeable leads over the senator in a potential match-up.