President Donald Trump has a warm relationship with the state of Alabama, perhaps unlike any president before him, and it raises a chicken vs. egg pondering: Is Trump popular in Alabama because he’s come to the state numerous times, or does he come to Alabama because he’s popular here?
The answer is likely both. Traditionally, and presidential incumbents and candidates have largely ignored Alabama, likely because we’re not a swing state and don’t hold a game-changing number of electoral votes. It’s good to be on a president’s radar and even better if that president is your favored candidate.
That may explain how Jeff Sessions wound up trailing a newcomer in a primary race to regain the U.S. Senate seat he held for two decades before stepping down for a disastrous turn as U.S. attorney general in the Trump administration.
Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, with no political experience, garnered the most votes for the Republican nomination in the Senate race. Sessions, at 73, has spent his entire professional career in public service or elected office. Both men have enjoyed popularity in the state. Sessions, however, got sideways with Trump after he recused himself from the Russia investigation almost immediately after stepping into the AG’s office. Trump was furious, and never let Sessions forget it for the uncomfortable months before his ultimate resignation.
From that perspective, the Senate race could be seen as a popularity referendum between Trump and Sessions centered on whether voters believe Sessions’ recusal was a betrayal of the president.
With Bradley Byrne now out of the running, there are a lot of Mobile Bay area votes up for grabs, which could work to Sessions’ advantage. Regardless, Tuesday’s showing must have certainly been an embarrassing reality check for Sessions, who likely thought the GOP slot to oppose incumbent Doug Jones was his for the taking.