Alabama Senate race shapes up to be a contentious slugfest

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Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville speaks to supporters after he defeated Jeff Sessions in Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – With control of the U.S. Senate on the line, Alabama’s race is shaping up to be a contentious showdown between a college football coach backed by President Donald Trump and the body’s most endangered Democrat, who will need to motivate his base and court moderate voters to win political survival.

Armed with Trump’s endorsement and fame from years on the sidelines, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville handily defeated former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Tuesday's Republican runoff, and quickly pivoted to attacking Sen. Doug Jones, who pulled off a stunning political upset in a 2017 special election to become Alabama's first Democrat elected to the Senate in a quarter century.

Tuberville has never held public office but cast himself as a better match with Alabama voters in his victory speech.

“Democrat Doug Jones is running for reelection with the slogan One Alabama. Well, you can make no mistake about it. What Doug really means is one liberal Alabama,” Tuberville said on election night.

After pulling off one improbable victory, Jones is not ceding his chances of another in a race setting up to be both pricey and combative.

“My message is going to be very simple: We’ve got to have leadership. We are in a time of crisis. I want you to look at the record,” Jones said, adding that he wants to talk about jobs, education and health care.

David Mowery, an Alabama-based political consultant, said the “deck is stacked” against Jones in a state where Trump captured 62% of the vote in 2016, but it would be a mistake for Republicans to think the race will be easy.

Jones now faces the headwind of a presidential election year, and a GOP nominee without the baggage of his 2017 opponent, Roy Moore, a religious right candidate who was polarizing before being accused of sexual misconduct.