Surprise, dismay and even anger followed last month’s announcement that the Alabama Farmers Federation’s political action committee, FarmPAC, was throwing its weight behind Tommy Tuberville’s election-bid to become the next U.S. Senator from Alabama.
ALFA’s move to back Tuberville, a political novice who once coached Auburn University’s football team, has also stirred concerns in Washington, D.C. where there is fear that a runoff in the Republican primary between former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and Tuberville could lead to another win by Democrat Doug Jones who currently serves as Alabama’s junior senator.
ALFA’s support for Tuberville is seen by many as a rank betrayal of Congressman Bradley Byrne and Secretary of State John Merrill, who were also seeking the farmers’ federation endorsement.
“Byrne worked tirelessly in the House of Representatives to carry ALFA’s farm bill, and no-one has been more supportive of ALFA than John Merrill,” said an ALFA insider who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the group’s internal politics.
“This is a case where ALFA’s leadership forgot old friends to make a new one, not a smart political choice, in my opinion,” said another ALFA member.
Tuberville is touted as the Republican frontrunner by a wide margin based solely on self-financed polls. Surveys conducted by outside interests over the last several weeks show a race that is far from decided with Tuberville, Merrill and Byrne in a virtual neck-in-neck, with Moore running a close fourth.
However, ALFA’s backing could potentially shift the field in Tuberville’s favor. Already there are signs that Byrne has faded somewhat since ALFA endorsed Tuberville.
A Capitol Hill source close to Senate leadership said, “This is a worse case situation, that could lead to another Jones victory.” Two other individuals with first-hand knowledge of the Senate leader’s thinking expressed the same worries.
All three individuals say preliminary opposition research finds cracks in Tuberville viability, pointing out that a runoff could lead to a vicious scenario eerily similar to the one in which Jones narrowly defeated Moore in a 2017 special election.
Already there are accusations that Tuberville doesn’t actually live in the state and the fact that he only recently registered to vote in Alabama in March of this year bolsters that claim.
Early this year, Republicans on The Hill were pushing former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions to toss his hat in the race. There is again a renewed push to see Sessions reclaim the seat he relinquished to serve as President Donald Trump’s attorney general. While the relationship between Trump and Sessions ended poorly, Sessions has remained publicly loyal to the President.
Rank-in-file Republicans believe that the break with Trump has damaged Sessions’ standing in the party and fear that Trump would unleash a Twitterstorm on his former A.G. if he decided to run further complicating a race that should be easily won by a Republican.
But Trump’s backing of appointed U.S. Senator Luther Strange didn’t help him defeat Moore in the 2017 special election primary and neither did his embrace of Moore keep him from losing to Jones.
So far in Alabama, Trump’s picks have not fared well, leaving an opening for Sessions should he choose to enter the contest.
Those close to Sessions says he is uncommitted but don’t rule out a run.
On the first ballot at Farmers’ Federation meeting in September, Moore, Stanley Adaire and Doug Jones didn’t garner any votes. State Rep. Arnold Mooney was eliminated in the next round after receiving only two votes. As voting continued, Merrill picked up Mooney’s votes giving him 22, while Byrne and Tuberville’s tally’s didn’t change at 23 and 28 respectively, which led to Merrill’s elimination. On the final ballot, Merrill’s votes shifted to Tuberville, while Byrne’s remained the same.
APR‘s insiders believe ALFA President Jimmy Parnell and Executive Director Paul Pinyan played a pivotal role in pushing Tuberville’s candidacy.
It is believed that by November, D.C.’s heavyweight will take an even more active role infusing cash into the Alabama Senate race.
National Democrats are determined for Jones to hold his seat in the heart of the deep-red-Trump country, which they see as a vital display of the party’s strength.
With four months until the Republican primary, how much the farmers’ federation vote impacts the race is unclear, but in Alabama’s hardball politics, every inning matters.