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Alabama incumbent Democrat Sen. Doug Jones (left) faces a tough race against Republican Tommy Tuberville. (AP) Alabama incumbent Democrat Sen. Doug Jones (left) faces a tough race against Republican Tommy Tuberville. (AP)

Alabama incumbent Democrat Sen. Doug Jones (left) faces a tough race against Republican Tommy Tuberville. (AP)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg October 31, 2020
Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher October 31, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • The Alabama Senate candidates have gone after each other on the pandemic, abortion, Social Security and Medicare, and football.

  • Of the five claims checked, Democrat Doug Jones has been rated Mostly True once and Half True twice. Republican Tommy Tuberville has been rated False twice.

Nowhere across the political map are Republicans more likely to pick up a U.S. Senate seat on Nov. 3 than in Alabama. Democrat Doug Jones holds office in the deeply red state courtesy of a special election that pitted him against a man accused of seeking a romantic relationship with an underage woman.

Jones now faces a more formidable opponent, Republican Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville is a longtime college football coach, known statewide for leading Auburn University in Alabama to five bowl game trophies and one undefeated season.

Jones has positioned himself as a centrist Democrat. He has voted in favor of positions favored by President Donald Trump (a yardstick crafted by the FiveThirtyEight political news website) 34.8% of the time, compared with an average score of 27.6% among all Democrats.

Tuberville is a steadfast supporter of Trump.

"I supported him from Day One," Tuberville told Fox News April 2019. "We need people to stand behind him — in the Senate, in Congress to help him get his agenda through."

The Cook Political Report rates the race as Lean Republican, meaning it is competitive, but Republicans have the advantage. It is one of 18 pivotal House and Senate contests up for election on Nov. 3 that PolitiFact is tracking.

The candidates have gone at each other and we’ve vetted five claims. There were three from Jones — one Mostly True, and two Half Trues — and two from Tuberville — both Falses. The two men focused on more than football, but we’ll start there.

Football

With Tuberville’s resume, and Alabama’s passion for football, it was perhaps inevitable that the game and politics would merge.

Following Trump’s cue that college football should go on despite the pandemic, Tuberville made the first move.

"Let me give you this one stat: 26 of the states that have governors that are Republican, 25 have decided to play football," he told Fox Business Aug. 17. "Twenty-four states that are Democrats, three-fourths have decided not to play already and most will probably not play. So, politics involved? Yes."

We rated that False.

In the first place, governors don’t decide who plays. collegiate athletic conferences and universities do.

Second, Tuberville’s stat was wrong. There’s no neat separation of college conferences and states, because states can have more than one conference represented within their borders.

At the time, there were only 17 states that didn’t have a single top-tier team planning to play its season. Of those, 14 had Democratic governors and four had Republican governors.

Jones turned the football angle to his own purposes with an ad saying that Tuberville had "quit on his players."

We rated that Half True.

Tuberville left four coaching positions in his career. His departures from the University of Mississippi and Texas Tech teams caught the players off guard. But in his other jobs, at Auburn University and the University of Cincinnati, he left after the teams began losing and school administrators were looking to make a change.

Abortion

Tuberville deployed an ad in which a woman says "Jones has voted to spend our tax dollars on late-term abortions. He’s so extreme, he supports abortion up until birth."

We rated that False.

Jones has not voted for federal funding of "late-term abortions." The second part of the claim goes too far. Jones said in 2017 that "the law for decades has been that late-term procedures are generally restricted, except in the case of medical necessity. That's what I support." 

Jones amplified on that a bit. On Oct. 12, he told an Alabama newspaper, "I oppose late-term abortions, which are extremely rare, except for instances of rape, incest, or when the life and health of the mother is in jeopardy."

The pandemic

Jones cast Tuberville as unprepared for the job as senator. In an Aug. 7 interview, he said no one has pressed Tuberville on key issues, including the coronavirus.

"In April, he said on a radio show, when asked how he would handle the pandemic, he said he didn’t have a clue," Jones said. "Just right after the Republican nomination, he was asked the same question and he still said he didn’t have a clue."

We rated that Mostly True.

The record largely backs up Jones’ claim. Tuberville did say in March he "wouldn’t have a clue" about whether to make stimulus payments to Americans unemployed by the pandemic or to send them back to work. And in July, when asked what his approach to the pandemic would be, he said: "But I don’t know which way you go, at the end of the day, whether you’re right or wrong, or anything that you do with this." 

But Tuberville has stated some positions, including that people should return to work and children should return to school.

Social Security and Medicare

In an Aug. 6 campaign ad, Jones said, "Tuberville is for privatizing Social Security and cutting Medicare."

We rated this Half True.

Tuberville once voiced interest in private investment accounts in place of Social Security contributions. And he at one point suggested that entitlement programs (Social Security and Medicare are the largest of those) broadly would be a place for cuts.

But Tuberville also said that he opposes cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

 
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