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When former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he would run for his old U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, he probably thought his biggest obstacle would be Sen. Doug Jones, the Democrat who took his seat in a 2017 special election upset.
Now, Sessions might not even get out of the Republican primary.
Sessions is down by 12 points, 52% to 40%, heading into a runoff later this month against Tommy Tuberville, a former Auburn football coach who topped the state’s Senate primary on Super Tuesday, according to a poll released Tuesday by Cygnal. Tuberville finished first in the first primary round last Tuesday with 33% of the vote, with Sessions right behind him at 32%. As the top two finishers in the primary, they’ll go to a runoff on March 31.
(U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne finished third with 25% of the vote, while former state Supreme Court justice and alleged sexual predator Roy Moore finished a distant fourth, with 7% of the vote. )
Tuberville is an Arkansas native with over 20 years of experience as a college football head coach. Aside from his 10-year stint at Auburn from 1999 to 2008, Tuberville also coached at Ole Miss, Texas Tech, and most recently the University of Cincinnati, where he resigned at the conclusion of the 2016 season.
The Senate election is Tuberville’s first foray into politics, but he raised a substantial $2.5 million through February 12 and still has over $1.1 million on hand. Sessions, on the other hand, raised just $819,804, although he had nearly $2 million left on hand as of February 12.
Sessions was extremely popular in Alabama as recently as 2016, before he became Attorney General. After months of publicly criticizing Sessions, Trump fired him the day after the November 2018 midterms.
Following Sessions’ somewhat surprising second-place finish, Trump gloated about the result on Twitter and blamed it on Sessions’ failure to shut down the Mueller investigation.
Now, all gloves are off. Last week, Sessions’ campaign slammed Tuberville as a “phony” with an ad featuring 2017 footage of him boasting about having a new home in Florida.
Sessions also complained Monday night about Tuberville’s refusal to debate him. “We don’t know anything about where he [Tuberville] comes from,” he told WKRG in Alabama after Tuberville pulled out of a previously agreed-upon debate. “So this is an important opportunity for us to find out where he stands on the issues.”
Following his first-place finish, Tuberville called Sessions a “cut and run politician” and directly referenced his opponent’s dismissal as attorney general.
“We’re going to overtime, and I know someone who knows how to win in overtime," Tuberville told supporters. "We’re going to finish what President Trump started when he looked at Jeff Sessions from across the table and said, 'You’re fired.'"
Cover: Jeff Sessions talks with the media after voting in Alabama's primary election, Tuesday, March 3, 2020, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
This article originally appeared on VICE US.