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.

Cases: 149940

Reported Deaths: 3779
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10097104
Hinds9984199
Harrison7116110
Jackson6360119
Rankin5588103
Lee509195
Madison4799106
Forrest383186
Jones357688
Lauderdale3496147
Lafayette326051
Washington3179107
Lamar291550
Oktibbeha245462
Bolivar241384
Lowndes237364
Panola222350
Neshoba2206118
Marshall217250
Leflore205590
Pontotoc199928
Monroe198177
Sunflower191655
Lincoln190865
Warren176857
Tate169851
Union167325
Copiah164140
Pike162658
Yazoo156039
Scott154829
Itawamba152935
Pearl River152167
Alcorn151328
Coahoma150543
Simpson148353
Prentiss146230
Adams141950
Grenada140945
Leake134944
Holmes130861
George125524
Tippah125230
Covington123439
Winston122224
Hancock121139
Wayne117923
Marion116646
Attala113034
Tishomingo109442
Chickasaw107632
Newton105629
Tallahatchie97027
Clay91327
Clarke90553
Jasper82822
Stone77014
Walthall76928
Calhoun75513
Montgomery74525
Carroll72415
Lawrence71814
Smith71316
Yalobusha71327
Noxubee71017
Perry67026
Tunica61019
Greene60322
Claiborne58616
Jefferson Davis57017
Amite54014
Humphreys53619
Benton49318
Quitman4927
Webster44314
Kemper43618
Wilkinson39822
Jefferson35211
Franklin3395
Choctaw3357
Sharkey30917
Issaquena1164
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 244993

Reported Deaths: 3572
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson32314500
Mobile19859361
Madison13223148
Tuscaloosa13049154
Montgomery12342236
Shelby1031577
Baldwin873398
Lee775766
Morgan662650
Calhoun6301119
Etowah627666
Marshall627255
Houston525638
DeKalb485536
Cullman439442
Limestone425145
St. Clair419555
Lauderdale407854
Elmore406864
Walker3657111
Talladega351454
Jackson320423
Colbert311942
Blount292240
Autauga273542
Franklin252633
Coffee245415
Dale232654
Dallas226232
Chilton223438
Russell22193
Covington218934
Escambia198331
Chambers176850
Tallapoosa176391
Pike158614
Clarke158419
Marion140236
Winston133023
Lawrence127936
Pickens123518
Geneva12218
Marengo121524
Bibb117917
Barbour117310
Butler116541
Randolph102921
Cherokee102224
Hale97031
Clay91924
Fayette91616
Washington91219
Henry8546
Lowndes79929
Monroe78911
Cleburne77214
Macon73722
Crenshaw71130
Bullock69619
Perry6886
Conecuh68414
Lamar6798
Wilcox63518
Sumter58122
Greene42618
Choctaw42213
Coosa3444
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