Sen. Tommy Tuberville? It is the longtime college football coach’s latest aspiration. Over the weekend, Tuberville, 64, announced via Twitter that he will be running for the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Doug Jones, who is up for re-election in 2020. Tuberville tweeted out: “After more than a year of listening to Alabama’s citizens, I have heard your concerns and hopes for a better tomorrow. I am humbled to announce the next step — I will be a [GOP] candidate for US Senate. I invite you to join my team.”
Initially, this may seem preposterous. Tuberville has never held elected office, and surely, there will be many well-qualified conservatives vying for this seat. However, Tuberville has the makings of a formidable candidate, and his campaign should be taken seriously.
What Tuberville lacks in political experience, he makes up for in a few different ways.
For starters, he is notable in Alabama for his football career. Not only was he a Division 1 head football coach for 21 seasons, but he spent a decade (1999-2008) with Auburn (in Alabama); he led them to a 13-0 season in 2004 and a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in January 2005; eight of his 10 Auburn teams made a bowl game appearance. People in Alabama already know the name. He has his share of media experience not only as a coach but also as an ESPN analyst. In 2017, AL.com said he “may have been more media-friendly than any coach in state history.”
Financially, he is also presumably in a good spot. Although his net worth is not public, Tuberville earned $23.1 million coaching from 2006 to 2016, according to Hero Sports, and received a $5.1 million buyout when he left Auburn, as ESPN points out. That said, he could pour some of his own fortune into the campaign.
Not to mention, Tuberville already has former Trump White House Communications Director Sean Spicer on his staff. Certainly, bringing on a well-respected member of the GOP gives him some credence.
It would not be unprecedented for someone like Tuberville to be elected either. Just last year, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, a wide receiver who played in the NFL for five seasons, was elected to represent Ohio’s 16th Congressional District despite having no political experience. He was a standout wide receiver for the Ohio State Buckeyes and, as WOSU wrote, Gonzalez’s name recognition was advantageous.
It is also true that former Reps. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y., and Steve Largent, R-Okla., as well as former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., a Basketball Hall of Famer, used their sports careers to get into office with no political experience. One year after Kemp’s tenure as the Buffalo Bills quarterback ended (1969), he was elected in upstate New York; Bradley retired from the NBA in 1977 and got elected in 1978. Largent got elected in 1994, having finished his NFL career in 1989.
Since Doug Jones is considered highly vulnerable to lose his seat representing the deep-red state, surely, the GOP primary field will be crowded. Odds are, anyone not named Roy Moore will wipe Jones out with the endorsement of President Trump. Trump will be up for re-election and received 62 percent of the vote in Alabama in 2016.
The crowded primary field could work in Tuberville’s favor as someone who is already well-known. After all, in the 2017 Alabama special election, both Roy Moore or Luther Strange received less than 40% of the primary vote prior to their runoff.
Tuberville has not been embroiled in any massive scandals during his coaching career either. Sure, he waded into Obama birtherism in 2011, but so did Trump, and that didn’t torpedo his White House run.
To his credit, Tuberville isn’t a fan of the rebel flag, didn’t publicly endorse Moore in 2017, and has not been accused of sexual misconduct. If he can couple these positives with a conservative agenda, perhaps he could win and help the Republican Party retain control of the Senate in 2020.
Tom Joyce (@TomJoyceSports) is a freelance writer who has been published with USA Today, the Boston Globe, Newsday, ESPN, the Detroit Free Press, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Federalist, and a number of other media outlets.