Alabama Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville struggled to explain his position on questions surrounding the Voting Rights Act and had difficulty describing the law, according to audio obtained by HuffPost on Thursday.
The former Auburn University football coach, a political neophyte running to unseat Sen. Doug Jones (D), was asked whether he supported extending the landmark 1965 civil rights statute during a Sept. 1 call with the Birmingham, Alabama, Sunrise Rotary Club.
His answer (which can be listened to in the clip above) verges on the incomprehensible and raises doubts about his understanding of the law that was key to ending the sweeping suppression of voting by Black people in the South:
“You know, the thing about the Voting Rights Act it’s, you know ― there’s a lot of different things you can look at it as, you know, who’s it going to help? What direction do we need to go with it? I think it’s important that everything we do we keep secure. We keep an eye on it. It’s run by our government. And it’s run to the, to the point that we, it’s got structure to it. It’s like education. I mean, it’s got to have structure. Now for some reason, we look at things to change, to think we’re gonna make it better, but we better do a lot of work on it before we make a change.”
Tuberville’s campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.
The Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the act in 2013 when it struck down its requirement that certain jurisdictions ― Alabama among them ― need to clear proposed changes in voting laws and procedures with the federal government. Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority 5-4 opinion, said the requirement was outdated and invited Congress to update the law.
The House voted last year to restore its core provisions with a new preclearance formula based on a state’s record on voting rights violations. Senate Republicans have resisted such changes, however, and declined to take up an update of the act.
Tuberville, with strong support from President Donald Trump, overwhelmed former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s GOP Senate primary in mid-July. Sessions sought to regain the seat he gave up to serve as the chief law enforcement official in the Trump administration. But the president quickly grew disenchanted with Sessions when the attorney general agreed that a special counsel’s office was needed to probe Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump forced Sessions out of his Cabinet, and then turned on him in his bid for a political rebirth.
The Alabama Senate seat looms as the GOP’s best chance for a pickup in November’s election. Winning it is absolutely critical to the Republican prospects for maintaining a Senate majority, and Tuberville is heavily favored to prevail in the deep-red state. A poll conducted last month found Tuberville with a 17-percentage-point lead over Jones, who was the victor in a December 2017 special election to fill the remaining years in the term Sessions’ had won in 2014. Sessions first won his Senate seat in 1996.