Alabama shocked the political world in 2017 when it elected a Democrat to the Senate in one of the most chaotic contests of recent years.
The 2020 race is shaping up to be a repeat.
Sen. Doug Jones, who won the seat of former Sen. Jeff Sessions, is deemed the most endangered incumbent senator on the board next year. Polling shows at least half of the state’s voters want him out.
But contributing to the uncertainty, even in one of the most conservative states in the nation, is the Republicans’ slate of potential candidates, including former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, a sitting congressman, a state legislator and perhaps former state Chief Justice Roy Moore, the Republican who lost to Mr. Jones in 2017.
The Mason Dixon Polling survey that pointed to danger for Mr. Jones in the general election showed Mr. Moore, who has yet to declare his candidacy, leading the field in the Republican primary. Mr. Tuberville was not polled, so state Republicans dismissed the survey’s utility.
“Why not put the people who say they are running in the poll instead of those who aren’t?” said Terry Lathan, the chairwoman of the Alabama Republican Party. “That’s one thing that made me suspicious of that finding.”
Mr. Jones won in 2017 as Mr. Moore crumbled under a national media feeding frenzy over allegations that he courted teenage girls when he was a lawyer in his 30s. That added to Mr. Moore’s already colorful history on the state bench, where he resisted a federal order to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments he had placed in the courtroom.
Next year, however, Republicans say Mr. Jones, 65, will be the focus of the race no matter who their candidate is, given the votes he has amassed against President Trump’s priorities.
“To the maximum extent possible, the campaign will primarily be against Doug Jones,” said Rep. Bradley Byrne, 64, one of the Republican challengers. “He has proven he doesn’t represent the views of most Alabama voters, and I’m interested in talking about that, not Roy Moore.”
The latest dent for Mr. Jones is a revelation by state Rep. John Rogers, who, during Alabama’s debate over its new restrictions on abortions, said “some kids are unwanted. So you kill them now or you kill them later.”
Mr. Rogers claimed that Mr. Jones privately agreed with him in phone conversations.
The two men had been considered close — Mr. Jones, as a defense lawyer, had represented Mr. Rogers — though they now appear to have parted ways. Indeed, Mr. Rogers said he plans to challenge Mr. Jones in the Democratic primary, though he has not yet filed the paperwork.
The Jones campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment, but Republicans in Alabama view Mr. Jones as vulnerable on several issues, most notably abortion politics in a generally pro-life state.
In the Senate, he has voted against a bill to restrict abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy and against a bill to prohibit permanently the federal funding of abortions. Mr. Jones did, however, vote in favor of a bill to require doctors to provide lifesaving care to babies delivered amid botched late-term abortions.
Mr. Jones also voted against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.
“He thinks he’s trying to stay in the middle of the road,” Ms. Lathan said. “But in Alabama, we always say that if you stay in the middle of the road, you get run over.”
On the trail, Mr. Tuberville has painted himself as a rock-ribbed conservative who, despite gaining Alabama fame by coaching football at Auburn, insists that fans of the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide have approached him and said they support his bid.
“That’s a real thing, that Auburn versus Bama thing,” said a state political consultant who hasn’t picked a candidate yet and asked not to be quoted by name. “It’s not a big thing, but Tuberville will have to be aware of it.”
State Rep. Arnold Mooney, 68, another Republican hopeful, appears to view his lane to the nomination as being a prominent evangelical conservative — the same path Mr. Moore might occupy were it not for the baggage that has prompted even President Trump and son Donald Jr. to publicly state that he should not run.
Mr. Mooney and Mr. Tuberville are making their tight allegiances with Mr. Trump a selling point and depicting Mr. Byrne as a converted NeverTrumper.
While he may be a latecomer to the Trump camp, Mr. Byrne puts himself there today, sparking a competition among the Republican challengers for the closest alliances with the president.
“I think voters know Tommy is going to give President Trump the kind of support he needs and hasn’t gotten in Washington from Doug Jones,” Tuberville campaign manager Tripp Skipper said.
Just how successful Mr. Tuberville has been fundraising isn’t clear because he hasn’t yet been required to release any campaign finance reports.
That will change after the second quarter ends this month. The next reports are expected to find Mr. Jones, who had $3 million in cash on hand at the end of March, and Mr. Byrne, whose staff said he would report more than $2 million in cash on hand this quarter, quite flush.
“His name recognition is worth $2 million,” Mr. Skipper said about Mr. Tuberville; Mr. Mooney’s campaign acknowledged a later start in fundraising but predicted they will be “very competitive.”
Although Mr. Jones has money, his sources haven’t reflected deep support at home.
Instead, Mr. Jones has been busy rubbing elbows with the European elite, raising money in England and at a Swiss dinner hosted by a former Obama administration diplomat.
The source of contributions reflects the lopsided nature of Mr. Jones’ financial backing. He reported 764 California contributions and 571 from New York and received only 93 checks from Alabama.
“Doug Jones is a pawn of the liberal elite,” Mr. Byrne said.