What We Know — and Don't — About Ex College Football Coach Tommy Tuberville: Alabama's Next Senator

Sean Neumann
·4 min read

Getty Images Donald Trump and Tommy Tuberville

Tommy Tuberville did not respond for comment.

The next U.S. senator from Alabama has stuck with that avoidance strategy, as he’s dodged interviews, debates, and—his critics say—the issues, on his way to winning the 2020 senate election.

Tuberville—a former college football coach who is mostly remembered in Alabama for leading Auburn University to an undefeated 2004 season—helped kick off the 2020 election results with what an easy win for the Republican Party, by most accounts.

But it’s Tuberville’s political inexperience, fumbled answers on basic policy throughout the campaign, and his campaign’s subsequent decision to clam up and trust Alabama voters will simply vote “Republican” that has led to a wave of criticism against the loyal incoming Trump lawmaker.

In one of his few public statements in June, Tuberville described himself to voters as a “salesman.” What he’s selling, though, is uncertain.

Getty Images Tommy Tuberville

Getty Images Tommy Tuberville

“Tuberville campaigns in North Alabama, avoids public speaking and interview requests,” a local CBS 19 in Huntsville, Alabama reported three weeks ago.

“His entire candidacy is prefaced on just supporting what the president does,” veteran Alabama political consultant David Mowery told CNBC, pointing out Tuberville’s apparent plan to shut the windows and ride off the coattails of the president.

Alabama is seen as a political stronghold for the GOP party, having not elected a Democratic senator prior to Tuberville’s incumbent opponent since 1990 before the “Republican Revolution” of the mid-90s.

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Sen. Doug Jones, the Democratic lawmaker Tuberville unseated on Tuesday, had won a special run-off election in 2018 after former Sen. Jeff Sessions took on the role of U.S. Attorney General under President Donald Trump.

Jones had won the 2018 special election by a narrow 21,000-vote margin, after a number of women alleged in a Washington Post report that his Republican opponent, Roy Moore, had sexually assaulted them when he was in his 30s. One of the women was 14 years old at the time.

Alabama has been reliably red for decades, not having voted for a Democratic president since 1976 and not having elected a Democratic governor since 1998.

Tuberville, 66, moved to the state from Florida in 2018 with the intention of running for the senate in 2020, Alabama news site Yellow Hammer reported.

Sessions, 73, had also returned to the state to try and reclaim his old senate seat, which he held from 1997-2017.

Getty Images Tommy Tuberville

Both he and Tuberville aligned themselves with Trump in the primaries, though Trump, 74, backed the former coach instead of his former attorney general, who he long held personal disdain for since Sessions recused himself from the Robert Mueller investigation in early 2017.

Trump lobbed criticism at his former attorney general, portraying him as mentally unfit, saying he’s “a disaster who has let us all down. We don't want him back in Washington!"

Tuberville handedly won the state primary over Sessions, who "fought back tears” as he conceded the race.

Tuberville, with the president’s endorsement, coasted through the general election against Sen. Jones, ignoring interview requests and declining to debate his Democratic opponent.

Mark Wallheiser/Getty; Butch Dill/AP/Shutterstock Sen. Doug Jones (left), Tommy Tuberville (right)

Getty Images Tommy Tuberville

Despite mounting reports about his political inexperience and his refusal to defend himself, most polls showed Tuberville with a commanding double-digit lead heading into Election Day.

“[Jones] can do everything right, he can run a great campaign, and he’s still likely to lose,” American University political professor David Lubin told CNBC.

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Tuberville had fumbled with policy questions and issues throughout his campaign, once appearing to not know what the Voting Rights Act is and then facing an embarrassing New York Times report that showed he was duped out of millions of dollars by what the paper reported to be multiple “Ponzi schemes.”

Last Friday, Slate published interviews with a handful of his former college football players, some of whom said they were “disappointed” their former coach aligned himself with Trump’s inflammatory politics. One player called his candidacy “disingenuous” and called his candidacy “a power grab.”

“President Trump has no interest in Black males,” said Tommy Jackson, who played on Tuberville’s undefeated Auburn team. “For Coach Tuberville to support someone like that—what does that say about somebody who has always thought this way to make millions of dollars off the same people the president is intending to overlook or mistreat? It’s shameful. It’s downright shameful.”

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But, Tuberville managed to win over voters by fiercely aligning himself with both the president and conservative ideologies, telling a campaign crowd on Sunday that he believes God actually helped put Trump in office.

“I’ve said this several times. People say, ‘Ah you don’t believe that.’ Hell yeah, I do believe it. God sent us and elected Donald Trump,” he said, the Associated Press reported.