In some ways, the coronavirus has helped Mr. Sessions make his case in a race where policy has otherwise played little to no importance. Alabama has been hit hard by the virus, with over 51,000 confirmed cases and 1,100 deaths as of Sunday. And in multiple virtual meetings with local Republican groups throughout the runoff, Mr. Sessions has played up his past efforts in the Senate and as a member of the Trump administration to crack down on China, vowing if re-elected to hold the nation accountable for the global spread of the virus.
Mr. Sessions’s focus on the issue, when paired with Mr. Tuberville’s instinct to wave off China’s role in the pandemic, has appeared to help him slightly close the gap with his opponent, according to recent polling. But as Richard Shelby, the senior Republican senator from Alabama, put it in a recent interview, voters may not be paying nearly as much attention to campaigns as usual. “There’s one story in town, and it’s about survival and about health,” he said.
Mr. Shelby, who said he hoped his state would ultimately elect Mr. Sessions, added that “smaller turnout” on Tuesday as a result of virus fears could help his former colleague’s chances. Multiple polls have predicted both Mr. Sessions and Mr. Tuberville prevailing easily in an eventual race against Mr. Jones, though even White House officials acknowledge that Mr. Tuberville, with his lack of experience and growing questions about his brief stint at the helm of a hedge fund, could prove a slightly tougher sell.
Mr. Sessions, for his part, appears to still be optimistic, buoyed in part by surveys that suggest a large number of voters remain undecided. On Saturday afternoon, he dropped by a seafood restaurant in Mobile to introduce himself to people grabbing lunch, passing out copies of a cookbook written by his wife, Mary, and reminding diners of the conservative principles he had long been “willing to fight for.”
In an interview after Mr. Sessions left his table, however, one voter said it would still probably be a “game-time” decision for him. “I like Jeff, I’ll tell you — he did a good job when he was in there before,” said Foster Forbes, a lifelong resident of Mobile, where Mr. Sessions currently lives.
Asked, then, why he remained undecided, Mr. Forbes, who was wearing a camouflage “Trump 2020” hat, paused for a few moments. “Just, you know,” he said tentatively, “the way some people keep talking about him.”