Sessions, Figures wage low-key Senate race

Published 9:06 am Sunday, October 12, 2008

MOBILE – Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, agree that the economy, including the pump price of gas, tops their list of voter concerns before the Nov. 4 election.

But they disagree almost totally on the record of President Bush. Sessions supports Bush’s tax cuts and the Iraq invasion, while Figures deplores an administration that plunged the nation’s surplus into the red and sent troops to war on erroneous claims.



Political party: Democrat

Date of Birth: Jan. 24, 1957 (51)

Hometown: Mobile

Education: Bachelor’s degree from University of New Haven in 1980; attended Jones Law School at Faulkner University.

Professional background: Managed the summer lunch program and directed the foster grandparents program for Mobile Community Action immediately after college; managed a weekly newspaper, The New Times, and ran a print shop until 1996.

Political background: Elected to Mobile City Council in 1993; elected to state Senate in 1997 to replace her late husband, Michael Figures, and re-elected in 1998, 2002 and 2006.

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Political party: Republican

Date of birth: Dec. 24, 1946 (61)

Hometown: Grew up in Hybart community near Camden; now lives in Mobile.

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Huntingdon College in 1969; law degree from the University of Alabama in 1973.

Professional background: Began his law practice in Russellville, then moved to Mobile, where he served as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1975-1977; was U.S attorney in Mobile from 1981-1993; then in private practice from 1993-1994.

Political background: Elected attorney general in 1994 by unseating Democratic incumbent: elected to open seat in U.S. Senate in 1996 and re-elected in 2002.

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Seeking a third term, Sessions far outpaced Figures in fundraising, building a warchest of more than $4.3 million, but spending little of it on campaign advertising in a low-key contest of yard signs and bumper stickers.

Sessions said he’s proud of having more than 10,000 contributors and was grateful that President Bush appeared at a Mobile fundraiser for him.

“People still have great affection for him, they admire him,” Sessions told The Associated Press in an interview.

Sessions said he focused his campaign on asking “the people to give me an opportunity to serve again. I’m not focusing on my opponent.”

Figures, whose supporters include Mobile’s baseball great Hank Aaron, told the AP she got her campaign message out through a “coalition-building” grassroots drive honed in earlier successful races for the Mobile City Council and the state Senate.

“We knew we would not be able to compete with his millions,” she said.

The latest campaign finance reports for the campaign covering through the end of June showed that Sessions had more than $4.3 million in the bank and Figures had $22,302. Those totals were unlikely to change much before Nov. 4.

While Sessions held the spotlight that usually shines on incumbents, Figures campaigned mostly in north Alabama where she is less well known.

Political scientist Bill Stewart of the University of Alabama said the national Democratic Party didn’t focus on the Sessions-Figures contest while concentrating on battleground states such as Virginia and Florida.

He said Figures is a “very capable legislator” who could benefit from Barack Obama’s presidential appeal, which he expects will boost turnout among black voters. But he said he doesn’t anticipate Sessions will lose “a very comfortable lead he has in Alabama,” and he expects Republican John McCain will win the state.

In campaign stops around Alabama, Sessions and Figures, both of Mobile, said people voiced concerns about the economy.

Sessions, who serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he has pumped gas at stations across the state while campaigning.

“I’ve seen people in Mobile buy $5 worth of gas. That’s all they had,” he said. “It just drives home that this surge in gasoline prices is sucking out large amounts of our American wealth that they could otherwise be using on other things important to them.”

Figures said people are “really finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. You hear that more than anything else — economy and gas prices.”

If elected, Figures would become the first black U.S. senator for Alabama and the first woman elected to the post in this state. Two women, Maryon Allen and Dixie Graves, served short terms in the U.S. Senate after being appointed, but were not elected.

She said she expects to get a boost on Nov. 4 from Bush’s unpopularity.

“Look where we are. We went from a nation in the black to a nation in the red. Now we’re up to trillions of dollars in the red,” she said. “My opponent voted with the president 98 percent of the time.”

But Sessions said the Bush tax cuts have helped the economy and he would vote to make them permanent. However, he broke with the Bush administration in voting against the financial bailout bill on Oct. 1.

“Though well-intentioned, the administration’s plan represents unprecedented governmental intervention in the economy,” Sessions said in a statement.

Sessions told the AP he doesn’t believe in “protecting reckless investors” but supports “maintaining a healthy framework for investment.”

Figures said she doesn’t think anybody will be immune from the financial crisis. Without action by Congress, she said more jobs will be lost.

On the Iraq war, Sessions said he “could not be more proud and pleased with the success of the surge and the progress in the last two years.”

“I think if we can continue this progress in Iraq and it emerges as a strong and decent country that’s independent and stable, it would be a very positive development for the Middle East,” said Sessions, who has visited U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and neighboring countries multiple times as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Figures said she was not in a position to visit Iraq or Afghanistan.

“I was against the war from the beginning,” she said. She said no weapons of mass destruction were found. “Iraq was not responsible for 9/11,” she said.

Osama bin Laden hasn’t been captured, she said.

“I don’t think the Middle East is more stable than it was prior to our invasion of Iraq,” she said. She said she would listen to the military leadership on deciding when to withdraw from Iraq “to not cause more harm.”

Sessions said he hopes the United States can withdraw “as soon as we possibly can. That’s my goal.” He said announcing a withdrawal timetable would be a “mistake — clearly not sound policy. . ..It just tells our enemy when they should be prepared to attack.”