HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — It will be another four and a half months before Republican voters in Alabama select a GOP nominee to face incumbent Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) in the Nov. 3, 2020 general election.
However, there could be a familiar face among the list of candidates on the ballot.
In recent days, there has been rampant speculation that former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions could enter the contest for his old seat. Sessions held the seat currently occupied by Jones from 1997 through 2017. He gave up that seat to serve in the Trump administration until his unceremonious exit in late 2018.
If Sessions were to enter the race for the Republican Party’s nomination, he would be joining a crowded field that includes former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R) and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
Late last month, Tuberville secured front-runner status by receiving the endorsement of the influential Alabama Farmers Federation. At the time and to this day, publicly available polling has shown Tuberville with a substantial lead over the rest of the field.
One poll leaked to the media last week showed Tuberville with a 21-point lead over second-place Roy Moore.
Tuberville’s commanding lead hasn’t stopped the insider buzz about Sessions entering the race. Privately and publicly, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has made overtures about Sessions running in 2020.
That speculation reached a fever pitch this week as talk that polling was being conducted on Sessions’ behalf to gauge public interest in his potential U.S. Senate candidacy.
During an appearance on Huntsville, AL radio’s WVNN on Friday, Alabama political columnist and Troy University political science professor Steve Flowers addressed the possibility of Sessions entering the field, adding that it has not gone unnoticed by other campaigns.
“In my conversation with Coach Tuberville – he had two or three of his aides with him – they are very apprehensive that Sessions is going to run,” Flowers said on “The Jeff Poor Show.” “I do know that there is a poll in the field right now trying to ascertain how he would do. I’ll say this: A month ago, I would have told you – I may have told you on your show – I didn’t think there was any chance Sessions was going to run. I think there’s a possibility of it now. I’m hearing strong rumors from all over the place. Nobody knows. I don’t think Sessions knows, but I think Sessions is revisiting it.”
Flowers said he expected the falling out between Sessions and President Donald Trump to be a factor in a potential 2020 U.S. Senate run for Sessions. That falling out apparently remains fresh on Trump’s mind, who described Sessions as both an “embarrassment” and a “disaster” as U.S. attorney general in an interview with Sebastian Gorka for The Daily Caller published on Thursday.
“Two different sides of it – Trump is so popular in the state, I think some of the crossfire they were in hurts Sessions, and then I don’t know,” Flowers said.
Flowers predicted if Sessions did announce his candidacy, at least two of the candidates could seek other political opportunities.
“I do think this – I think he is heavy enough that if he did run, you might see two of the people, and I don’t know this. I’ve not talked to them about it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bradley Byrne go back to his congressional race, and John Merrill go back and wait for 2022 rather than run against Jeff Sessions.”
“I think Tuberville is in it,” he continued. “I think Moore is in it. I don’t think they fold their tent. But I think Sessions is heavy enough that if he gets in there, he may run Byrne and Merrill home. I don’t know that now, I just say that because if this time next week we’re talking, and we find out Sessions is in there, it’s not going to surprise. I don’t think it happens, but it wouldn’t surprise me.”
Sessions has not put to rest any of the rumors about his return to politics. During his appearance at a Madison County, AL Republican Party fundraiser earlier this month, he declined to answer questions from attendees about a potential 2020 U.S. Senate run.
The clock is ticking for Sessions to make a final decision. Qualifying began last week for Republican candidates and continues until Nov. 8. Thus far, only Adair, Merrill, Mooney and Tuberville have formally qualified.
Also up for grabs is Alabama’s first congressional seat occupied by Byrne with several candidates including Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, State Rep. Chris Pringle (R), restauranteur Wes Lambert and former State Sen. Bill Hightower currently campaigning for the post on the assumption Byrne is seeking the U.S. Senate. As of Saturday, no one has qualified as a GOP candidate for that seat.
Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor