Who is Tommy Tuberville, why are Democrats unhappy with his win over Jeff Sessions in Alabama Senate runoff?
Tommy Tuberville is known more for his background in football than politics. The 65-year-old former Auburn University football coach on Tuesday (July 14) defeated former attorney general Jeff Sessions in the GOP primary runoff in Alabama to set up a November clash against incumbent Democratic Senator Doug Jones. Jones became the first from the blue party to win a Senate seat in the state since 1992. Tuberville, who has the backing of President Donald Trump, is expected to win the deep red state which the latter won handsomely in 2016 with over 62 percent support.
Now, who is Tuberville — the man who made his biggest headline in the political arena by slaying the giant in Sessions? The former president of the American Football Coaches Association has never held an elected office and ran a campaign largely based on his support for Trump. Born in Arkansas, Tuberville moved to Yellowhammer State only a few months before the 2018 midterm elections and had voted in Florida in the election the year before.
Tuberville was endorsed by Trump in March when the latter tweeted: "Tommy was a terrific head football coach at Auburn University. He is a REAL LEADER who will never let MAGA/KAG, or our Country, down!” Even on a call with the voters in Alabama on July 13, Trump said about his candidate: "He’s going to have a cold, direct line into my office. That I can tell you." After Tuberville’s win, Trump not only called it great but even claimed that he would serve as a great senator for Alabama.
Football background has helped Tuberville in politics
Tuberville’s contacts with college football played a key role in his campaign against Sessions. The facts that football is a popular sport in Alabama and Tuberville is known to be adept in one-on-one politicking have helped him overcome the challenge against Sessions. A report in Vox cited Bill Britt, the editor-in-chief of Alabama Political Reporter, as saying that Tuberville's experience in college football was paying off in the political field. "Years of recruiting players and back-slapping wealthy alumni has given him a far greater ability to reach people in rural Alabama. A Republican has to win rural Alabama to win any primary," he was quoted as saying.
But football could also have another impact on Tuberville's journey ahead. While he made headlines nationally for leading the Auburn Tigers to an undefeated season in 2004, he also courted controversy in 1999 when he allowed a player charged with raping a teenage girl to remain in the team after just a one-match suspension. On another occasion in 2012, Tuberville left Texas Tech recruits and assistant coaches in the middle of a dinner before announcing that he would take up a new job at the University of Cincinnati. Fourteen years before that, Tuberville, who was the head coach at University of Mississippi, promised he would only leave the job “in a pine box” and then joined the Tigers as the head coach.
Tuberville’s political agenda so far has been limited to supporting Trump. In an otherwise low-profile campaign, he has backed the president’s plan to build the border wall with Mexico and he also backed reducing the national debt. Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, the first holder of the post in the Trump era, is a member of Tuberville’s campaign.
Tuberville hedge fund scandal
Sessions called Tuberville a Trump’s "scandal ridden candidate". Earlier in July, The New York Times came up with an investigative report over a financial fraud scandal involving Tuberville which Sessions said couldn’t be swept under the rug. "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.
Tuberville's partner was handed a 10-year imprisonment for the scheme by a court in Opelika, Alabama, where Tuberville was sued for fraud for paying money in a private settlement that has been kept out of the public eye.
The issue was widely talked about in the Republican circles for months. The NYT article brought out details for the first time in the national spotlight. Tuberville turned into a full partner in a hedge fund with former Lehman Brothers broker John David Stroud. Their ventures included TS Capital Management and TS Capital Partners. The letters ‘T’ and ‘S’ stand for Tuberville and Stroud, respectively.
Tuberville did not pick which stocks to buy or sell and as somebody busy with football assignments, he did not attend the office frequently. Tuberville introduced Stroud to potential investors and also had business cards that identified himself as a managing partner. He even leased an expensive car and got his health insurance through that company, it was reported.
What Democrats are saying about Tuberville win
While Trump's supporters were glad to see Tuberville win over Sessions, the Democrats were not amused. Here are some of the reactions that Democratic leaders and their supporters came up with after Tuberville's victory.
Doug Jones said he would hope Tuberville would talk about issues. “Thus far, he (Tommy Tuberville) has not tried to talk about anything other than his endorsement of President Trump," he said, alleging that the only reason for which Tuberville ran for the election is to represent the president and not the people of Alabama. Alabama Democrats also mentioned the rape controversy to take a dig at Tuberville. They tweeted: “Tuberville thought a one-game suspension was enough when one of his players raped a little girl.”
Christopher Hale, the Democrat who is running for election to the House to represent Tennessee's 4th Congressional District, called Tubervill a traitor. In a tweet, he said: "It’s time for Nick (Lou) Saban to endorse @DougJones over that traitor Tommy Tuberville. He got fired a dozen years ago and is rightly hated by both Auburn and Alabama fans. War Eagle and Crimson Tide must unite to send Tuberville back to Ohio. He’ll destroy our beloved Alabama."
David Yankovich, a former Democratic candidate who was in the race for the House from Wisconsin but later dropped out, tweeted expressing his confidence that Jones will have no problem in defeating Tuberville, Trump’s favorite candidate.