MOBILE, Alabama — With eight days to go until Alabama Republicans head to the polls to cast a ballot for their choice for who will represent the GOP in the November general election, former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville is being confronted with his past, both as collegiate football coach and a private citizen.
Last week, the Tuberville campaign had to answer for a Washington Examiner report that as coach of the Auburn Tigers, Tuberville handed down a one-game suspension, a seemingly light punishment, to player charged with rape of a 15-year-old in 1999.
Tuberville was in his first of what would be 10 seasons at Auburn when Tigers wide receiver Clifton Robinson pled guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor to avoid going to trial after being charged with the second-degree rape.
“Clifton is back on the team,” Tuberville said at the time of Robinson’s plea. “He and I will sit down today, and I’ll tell him that we do things right around here, so he can expect there will be some punishment. What it is, I don’t know yet.”
Robinson served the one-game suspension and returned to the team to play in Auburn’s match-up against Idaho Vandals on Sept. 11, 1999.
Tuberville campaign chairman Stan Mcdonald told the Montgomery (AL) Advertiser that Tuberville was being deferential to law enforcement at the time and called the suspension “routine.”
“Just as team doctors had full authority to determine if injured players took the field, Coach Tuberville gave the same kind of authority to the local police, judges, and other law enforcement officials if one of his players crossed a legal line,” Mcdonald said in a statement. “Immediate suspensions for those transgressions were routine.”
Tuberville’s opponent, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, took exception with Mcdonald’s response. In a statement given exclusively to Breitbart News, Sessions accused Tuberville of “hiding scared.”
“A good coach cannot put winning games ahead of the well-being of a 15-year-old girl, nor ahead of teaching young men important life lessons,” Sessions said. “Instead of telling the truth and taking responsibility, Tuberville is again hiding scared. He claims that he outsourced player discipline to law enforcement. That is absurd. Ducking accountability, just like how he broke a clear promise to debate me before the Alabama voters, is dishonest and weak. Alabama needs a Senator worthy of their trust.”
On Sunday, The New York Times delivered another shot to the Tuberville campaign with a report drawing attention to the former football coach’s involvement in a 50-50 hedge fund partnership with former Lehman Brothers broker John David Stroud.
An investigation resulted in a 10-year federal sentence for Stroud for securities fraud, but no charges for Tuberville. Tuberville was sued in federal court by investors and later settled. However, the terms of the settlement were not made public.
“Coach Tuberville was as surprised as anyone to learn Stroud had lost all the money, including Coach’s,” campaign chairman Mcdonald said in a statement to The New York Times. “He never received a dime; it was a dead loss for him and his family. The Lord humbles us on many occasions, and this was such a moment for Coach.”
Sessions offered his response to the Times report in a statement on Sunday, which called on Tuberville to provide “the complete truth.”
“This is an astounding story. Based on the facts already uncovered, it is clear that Tommy Tuberville was one of two partners in a major hedge fund fraud scheme that bilked large sums of money from hardworking people, including Alabamians,” Sessions said. “His partner was even sentenced to 10 years in prison for the scheme by the court in Opelika, while Tuberville was sued for fraud, paying out a large sum of money that he has kept secret. This can’t just be swept under the rug, and Tuberville can’t just brush it aside by falsely claiming he was some innocent victim. Indeed, he was a victimizer and held himself out as the ‘managing partner’ of the firm. Tuberville must give a full and complete accounting of this scandal. The people of Alabama deserve to know the complete truth now, before the election, about the man who is asking to be their senator.”
That storyline has come up at times for Tuberville on the campaign trail, and Tuberville has consistently said he had committed no wrongdoing.
Breitbart News also reached out to the Tuberville campaign about the late-campaign negative press and, as of publication time, has not yet received a response.
The current state of the contest between Tuberville and Sessions is not clear. An independent poll of likely Republican voters conducted in early May showed Tuberville with a 23-point lead. However, a survey conducted on behalf of the Sessions campaign by On Message, Inc. showed Tuberville to have only a six-point edge.
Both campaigns have focused the bulk of their efforts on the southern half of Alabama, where the Republican nomination for two congressional seats is also set to be determined on July 14. Both Reps. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) and Martha Roby (R-AL) of the first and second congressional districts respectively are vacating their seats at the end of this Congress. Both of those districts have hotly contested GOP primary runoffs, which likely means higher turnout for the U.S. Senate statewide contest in those two congressional districts.
In addition to those two down-ballot contests, Alabama’s first congressional district, which includes coastal Mobile and Baldwin Counties, went solidly for Byrne in his U.S. Senate bid, which means those votes are potentially up for grabs for the two campaigns.
One thing Tuberville does have working in his favor is the endorsement of President Donald Trump. However, Trump has not been as outspoken for Tuberville as he was back on Memorial Day weekend. Trump urged his Twitter followers to support Tuberville in his bid for the U.S. Senate over Sessions, who Trump has been at odds with for a 2017 recusal from matters pertaining to alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Last month, reports surfaced that Trump would come to Mobile, AL, to hold a rally on Tuberville’s behalf on July 11, just three days before the runoff. The proposed site of the rally was the same location, Ladd-Peebles Stadium, of two previous Trump events, one of which was significant given it was the first rally Sessions appeared on stage with the eventual president.
However, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins said the Trump campaign was scrapping plans for future rallies amid the coronavirus pandemic, and that included the proposed Mobile event.
On Sunday, the Trump campaign announced it would be holding a July 11 rally in Portsmouth, NH, which contradicts the stated reasoning from Collins’ report.
The winner of the Sessions-Tuberville contest will go on to face incumbent Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), who holds the seat after pulling off an unlikely victory in December 2017 against former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Although Jones would be an underdog to either Sessions or Tuberville in a general election contest, a poll conducted late last month by Democrat polling firm ALG Research showed Jones trailing Tuberville by just three points and Sessions by two points in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups.
However, the ALG poll comes at a time when both candidates have gone negative against one another, and that could be a reason for Jones’ polling numbers. To pull off a second upset, Jones will have to overcome Trump’s coattails from the top of the ticket, and the straight-party voting offered on Alabama general election ballots.
Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor