Donald J. Trump was in a close reelection fight Tuesday night, but it was not close in the Heart of Dixie.
Trump won Alabama overwhelmingly over Democrat Joe Biden, just as he did in 2016 when he defeated Hillary Clinton. And keeping with their strong preference for Republican candidates, Alabama voters chose former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, a political newcomer whose campaign was largely based on his loyalty to Trump, to replace Democratic incumbent Doug Jones in the U.S. Senate.
Nearly complete but unofficial returns this morning showed Trump leading Biden by about 63% to 35% in Alabama. Almost as soon as polling places around the state closed, The Associated Press declared Trump the winner, and thus he will win the state’s nine electoral votes, just as he did in 2016 when he won 63% of the votes against Democratic nominee Clinton.
Democratic presidential candidates have carried Alabama only twice in the last 60 years.
Tuberville, meanwhile, was leading Jones by a margin of about 61% to 38%, though Jones was ahead by 54% to 46% in the state’s most populous county of Jefferson and by an even bigger margin in Montgomery County.
Jones, a former federal prosecutor, was considered the most vulnerable Senate Democrat nationwide in Tuesday’s election, in large part because he narrowly won his Senate seat in a special 2017 election after GOP incumbent Jeff Sessions vacated the seat to become the Trump administration’s attorney general. Jones’ opponent in that special election, former Chief Justice Roy Moore, was a flawed candidate, plagued by sexual misconduct allegations.
Several Republicans vied to challenge Jones in this year’s election, including Sessions, who had been hounded from the office by Trump after he recused himself from an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Sessions made the runoff for the Senate nomination, but Tuberville, with backing from Trump, easily dispatched him to become the GOP candidate. Though being outspent by a wide margin, the former coach then ran a carefully scripted Trump-centric campaign to do the same thing to Jones on Tuesday night. And where Jones had won the state’s most populous counties of Jefferson, Madison, Mobile and Montgomery in 2017, Tuberville was narrowly leading him Tuesday night in Madison and had a big margin in Mobile.
“The Republican advantage in Alabama is so strong, you can run an absolutely perfect statewide campaign — and there’s an argument Doug Jones has done that — and still fall short,” said Auburn University political scientist Ryan Williamson.
In an email before the polls closed Tuesday night, Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and a longtime political analyst, said Jones couldn’t “swim against the strong Trump tide in the state.”
“Coattail really matters in this partisan era,” Sabato said.
Going into Tuesday’s election, Alabama Republicans held super majorities in the Legislature. They also held the governor’s chair and every other statewide office, and all but two federal offices – the Senate seat that Jones narrowly won in 2017, and the Seventh Congressional District seat held by Terri Sewell.
In the only other contested statewide race on Tuesday’s ballot, Republican incumbent Twinkle Cavanaugh easily turned back Democratic challenger Laura Casey for president of the Public Service Commission.
Overall, in large part because elections for the Legislature, governor, attorney general and other constitutional offices are two years away, Tuesday’s election results will not significantly change the state’s political map.
In 2016’s presidential election, Trump received more than 1.3 million votes to Clinton’s 718,000 in Alabama, winning all but a handful of the state’s 67 counties, including populous Madison and Mobile, and winning by margins of five to one or higher in such overwhelmingly white counties as Dekalb, Marshall, Cullman and Blount.
With all 67 counties reporting this morning, Trump had more than 1.4 million votes, nearly double Biden’s total. Like Clinton in 2016, Biden carried all of the state’s majority-black counties, most of them lightly populated, and he also carried Jefferson and Montgomery counties. Trump, however, had a clear lead in Madison in the Tennessee Valley and a big lead in Mobile on the Gulf Coast. He also won those counties in 2016.
In 2020, neither member of the presidential tickets campaigned in Alabama, a tacit acknowledgement that the state would again go Republican. Over the past 60 years, Democratic candidates have found the state tough going, and only two of have won it. Except when former Gov. George C. Wallace carried the state as an independent presidential candidate in 1968, that period has seen a majority of the Republican presidential candidates win Alabama by double-digit margins.
The last Democratic presidential victory was in 1976, when former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford, who had become president after Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974 to avoid impeachment. Sixteen years earlier, U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts had carried the state, defeating then-Vice President Richard Nixon.
Alabama has more than 3.7 million registered voters, and unofficial, incomplete returns showed an estimated 2.2 million – 60.5% — of those cast votes, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Against a background of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and recent disruptions from Hurricane Zeta, Alabamians returned more than 300,000 absentee votes, more than triple the record number cast in the 2012 general election.