MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Former college football coach Tommy Tuberville on Tuesday recaptured a U.S. Senate seat for Republicans by defeating Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, who had widely been considered the Senate's most endangered Democrat.
Republicans had made taking back the once reliably conservative seat a priority in 2020. Tuberville, who has never held public office and last coached four years ago, aligned himself closely with President Donald Trump and declared in the campaign: "God sent us Donald Trump."
"Alabama, welcome back to the Republican U.S. Senate," Tuberville shouted after taking the stage to loud cheers at his election night party in downtown Montgomery. Tuberville captured 62% of the vote with 89% of ballots counted.
"I want to thank Doug Jones for his hard work and effort, but it's time to go home, Tuberville said as the crowd cheered. "Sometimes you end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard."
State Republicans and Tuberville had hammered at Jones over a handful of votes, including his decision to convict Trump during the impeachment trial. Tuberville promised the crowd that he would "be guided by shared values, conservative values and I will always vote with the majority of people in the state of Alabama."
Tuberville took a congratulatory call from Vice President Mike Pence on stage after his victory was declared. "Let me say to everyone across the state of Alabama thank you for delivering a great victory for President Donald Trump and thank you for delivering a great new senator to Washington D.C," Pence said on speaker phone to the crowd.
Tuberville, referencing Jones' better funded campaign, said out-of-state donors "learned the hard way that Alabama's Senate seat can not be bought."
"If you allow me to quote one of my opponent's many campaign ads, they can all go to hell and get a job," he said. Jones ran an ad showing Tuberville using the phrase to respond to student hecklers after leaving a coaching job.
Three years ago, Jones became the first Alabama Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in a quarter-century. His victory was aided by scandal after Republican Roy Moore, already a controversial figure in the state, faced allegations of sexual misconduct from decades earlier.
Jones' concession speech in Birmingham was a stark contrast to his jubilant celebration three years ago when he pulled off what some thought an impossible Deep South win. Although he was denied a full term in the Senate, Jones said there was important work to continue.
"What we've done the last three years was more than about just one Senate race," Jones said as he stood with his family on stage.
"At the end of the day, my time in the Senate is going to be over, but our time is just beginning, our time to make our state so much better than what is has been, to make sure we continue the march of progress," Jones said.
"We are all in this together. We are doing everything to lift all boats, to make sure every man woman and child in the state of Alabama has an equal opportunity, are treated equally with dignity and respect, to make sure they have the opportunities for a job and an education."
Jones, a former U.S. attorney best known for prosecuting Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for Birmingham's infamous 1963 church bombing, positioned himself as a moderate who supported gun rights and would cross party lines when it benefited the state. On the campaign trail in 2020, he referred to Tuberville as "Coach Clueless" because of his verbal fumbles on policy questions and past financial dealings.
Tuberville's victory party was held in a hotel ballroom not far from the Alabama Capitol. While a sign told people that masks were required for entry, few in the jubilant crowd appeared to wear them inside the ballroom. Jones' party was at an outside space in Birmingham where most people wore masks.
Angie Milam, a 64-year-old nurse and Democrat, joked that she voted for Jones "because he's not Tuberville."
"I think he's doing a good job, and I think he just needs a little more time in there so we can see what he can do," Milam said.
Art Audi, a 74-year-old retired accountant, voted for Tuberville and liked that he is so closely aligned with Trump, as well as his anti-abortion views.
"I thought Tuberville will do a good job," Audi said. "I like what he stands for as far as abortion."
"I like Trump. He's got some guts and he says it like it is. He doesn't pussyfoot around. He doesn't try to be politically correct, and I like that."