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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: 292811

Reported Deaths: 6613
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19515228
Hinds18611385
Harrison16431275
Rankin12543261
Jackson12419216
Lee9641160
Madison9378194
Jones7857145
Forrest7094136
Lauderdale6760225
Lowndes5998137
Lamar581180
Lafayette5698113
Washington5135128
Bolivar4580120
Oktibbeha438691
Panola424992
Warren4101113
Pearl River4083128
Pontotoc406668
Marshall398392
Monroe3977126
Union392173
Neshoba3758166
Lincoln3447100
Hancock338673
Leflore3349118
Sunflower316685
Tate299874
Pike298293
Scott291867
Alcorn289660
Itawamba288571
Yazoo283262
Tippah275465
Copiah273957
Coahoma272666
Simpson270778
Prentiss267658
Leake251370
Wayne250540
Marion249878
Covington247178
Grenada244676
Adams232877
George229845
Newton223151
Winston220274
Tishomingo211465
Jasper211244
Attala205969
Chickasaw200550
Holmes181470
Clay177848
Stone171129
Tallahatchie169239
Clarke168271
Calhoun155527
Smith151531
Yalobusha142236
Greene126533
Walthall123340
Noxubee122629
Perry120934
Montgomery120537
Lawrence119021
Carroll117223
Amite110732
Webster109229
Jefferson Davis99931
Tunica98023
Claiborne97329
Benton92524
Humphreys91326
Kemper89422
Quitman76614
Franklin75419
Choctaw69416
Wilkinson62226
Jefferson61027
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 490220

Reported Deaths: 9744
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson704661342
Mobile35810721
Madison32203443
Tuscaloosa23961409
Montgomery22417489
Shelby21773211
Baldwin19635272
Lee14883147
Morgan13571248
Etowah13118312
Calhoun13090283
Marshall11212203
Houston10036257
Limestone9321133
Elmore9313179
Cullman8864177
St. Clair8771220
Lauderdale8570210
DeKalb8419173
Talladega7450162
Walker6492249
Jackson6466102
Autauga617285
Blount6072125
Colbert5978118
Coffee5229100
Dale4614106
Russell401431
Franklin397675
Covington3948105
Chilton383196
Escambia376670
Tallapoosa3559139
Clarke342749
Dallas3396140
Chambers3393103
Pike292771
Lawrence281284
Marion280793
Winston245665
Bibb243759
Marengo238554
Geneva238468
Pickens223554
Barbour209550
Hale208464
Fayette199356
Butler195165
Henry182341
Cherokee176338
Monroe165638
Randolph162740
Washington156233
Crenshaw143353
Clay143254
Macon140543
Cleburne136539
Lamar131632
Lowndes130148
Wilcox120825
Bullock116534
Conecuh106523
Perry105327
Sumter98231
Coosa86823
Greene86732
Choctaw54723
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