Alabama Senate race: GOP primary candidates -- including Jeff Sessions -- run on being closest to Trump

Jeff Sessions put back on the red "Make America...

Posted: Mar 3, 2020 10:39 AM
Updated: Mar 3, 2020 1:36 PM

Jeff Sessions put back on the red "Make America Great Again" hat. The door to Tommy Tuberville's campaign bus said "#MAGA." Bradley Byrne urged fans at the Alabama-LSU football game to raise the roof when President Donald Trump walked to his stadium seats.

For the former attorney general, former Auburn football coach and congressman, the Republican primary race for a US Senate seat in Alabama has come down to one "big thing," according to GOP Rep. Robert Aderholt. "Which candidate is going to support Trump's principles?"

Each Republican has jumped on his competitor's rare break from the President. A month before the 2016 election, as Trump came under widespread criticism for bragging about groping women, Byrne said Trump "is not fit to be President." In 2019, Tuberville said he was "pissed off" at Trump because military veterans "can't get health care." And most famously, Trump publicly mocked and ultimately fired Sessions after he recused himself from overseeing the Department of Justice investigation into Russian interference of the 2016 election because he served on the Trump campaign.

But Sessions, who held this US Senate seat for 20 years before joining the Trump administration, is expected to emerge on Tuesday as one of two candidates in the fierce runoff election held on March 31. The winner of that race will then face Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in November, the best pickup opportunity for Republicans in the Senate.

"Senator Sessions is a known commodity, who has a great deal of personal integrity and people recognize that," Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told CNN. "They're going to respond to him like they have before."

Byrne's supporters say that his campaign has enough momentum to make the next phase of the race. Byrne campaign spokeswoman Lenze Morris called it a "a three-man race for two spots," without a guarantee for who will fill them.

"Public and internal polling has been all over the place due to the high number of undecideds and voters changing their minds," Morris said. "Over the last week, we've seen the undecideds breaking toward Bradley because he is the only person with a proven record of supporting President Trump."

The Sessions and Tuberville campaigns did not respond to requests for comment.

A looming question is whether Trump would side with the Republican who faces Sessions in the runoff election. Merrill said he thought Trump had kept quiet so far in part in deference to Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, who has endorsed Sessions.

There's also a debate in Republican circles in the state about how much a Trump attack on Sessions would affect his candidacy.

In 2017, the President endorsed appointed Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, who was defeated in the runoff election against former Judge Roy Moore. Trump then supported Moore, who narrowly lost to Jones after women alleged Moore sexually abused them when they were teenagers decades ago. Moore, who denied all wrong-doing from the accusations, is running again but has not broken into the top tier of candidates.

Instead, the top three candidates are focusing their attacks on each other, while claiming the pro-Trump, Christian conservative mantle.

Tuberville has run as an outsider hell-bent on draining the swamp and ousting "career politicians." In one video, Tuberville said, "God sent us Donald Trump, because God knew we were in trouble."

Meanwhile Byrne has boasted of voting with Trump 97% of the time, calling himself "pro-life," "pro-gun" and "pro-Wall." In one Byrne campaign ad, the actors knocked Tuberville for getting fired from Auburn -- even though he racked up an impressive six consecutive wins against in-state rival Alabama -- and Sessions since he "let the President down."

"And Hillary (Clinton) still ain't in jail," added another actor.

In 2014, Sessions was so beloved in the state that he did not face an opponent. Now, he's likely to not get 50% in the primary. He has responded to the intraparty attacks by reminding Alabama that he was the first senator to endorse Trump -- and never said a "cross word" about him. Sessions has also made an issue of Tuberville's residency, calling him a "tourist" who moved from Florida to run for Senate.

Merrill says the race will turn even more competitive in the runoff.

"You ain't seen nothing yet," he said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 64400

Reported Deaths: 1825
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5416112
DeSoto347227
Madison236360
Harrison228735
Rankin220231
Jackson215641
Jones182857
Forrest170155
Washington154835
Lauderdale137990
Lee129732
Neshoba126490
Lamar117713
Oktibbeha107737
Lowndes102333
Bolivar101032
Warren99531
Scott97820
Panola96012
Sunflower94223
Copiah92928
Lafayette90714
Leflore88261
Pike86133
Holmes85948
Grenada81921
Yazoo80312
Lincoln78741
Pontotoc7808
Leake77625
Simpson76730
Wayne74921
Monroe73151
Coahoma68410
Tate68327
Marion63419
Marshall6169
Covington60313
Adams59625
Winston59315
Union55215
George5454
Newton53011
Pearl River51537
Tallahatchie51210
Attala51024
Walthall48219
Chickasaw43819
Noxubee43811
Claiborne39913
Calhoun3929
Smith38913
Clay38014
Jasper3799
Alcorn3775
Prentiss3699
Hancock34914
Tishomingo3445
Itawamba32310
Clarke32225
Tippah32013
Tunica3076
Yalobusha30410
Lawrence3027
Montgomery3023
Humphreys28111
Carroll24811
Quitman2381
Greene23011
Kemper22715
Jefferson Davis2256
Perry2207
Amite2176
Webster21112
Jefferson1936
Wilkinson19313
Sharkey1913
Stone1603
Choctaw1294
Benton1280
Franklin1152
Issaquena241
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 91776

Reported Deaths: 1639
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson12186230
Mobile9269204
Montgomery6350148
Madison512227
Tuscaloosa400269
Baldwin332223
Shelby311932
Marshall300134
Unassigned287856
Lee255442
Morgan227015
Etowah196728
DeKalb172113
Elmore163337
Calhoun162713
Walker147964
Houston133412
Dallas129823
Russell12672
St. Clair125214
Limestone122713
Franklin121520
Cullman117112
Colbert112213
Lauderdale111113
Autauga103021
Escambia98115
Talladega94613
Jackson8904
Chambers83238
Tallapoosa82778
Dale79823
Butler75435
Blount7453
Chilton7386
Coffee7255
Covington71620
Pike6727
Barbour5645
Lowndes56124
Marion54724
Marengo52914
Clarke4919
Hale45926
Bullock44411
Winston43511
Perry4324
Wilcox41110
Monroe3964
Randolph39210
Bibb3844
Pickens3769
Conecuh37310
Sumter36018
Lawrence3251
Macon31613
Washington31512
Crenshaw3073
Choctaw27612
Cherokee2497
Greene24711
Henry2473
Geneva2430
Clay2255
Lamar2052
Fayette1785
Cleburne1211
Coosa952
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