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: 313942

Reported Deaths: 7240
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21580258
Hinds20330415
Harrison17879309
Rankin13594278
Jackson13429246
Madison10088217
Lee9970174
Jones8370163
Forrest7670152
Lauderdale7188241
Lowndes6387146
Lamar622486
Lafayette6184118
Washington5332133
Bolivar4801132
Oktibbeha462198
Panola4582106
Pearl River4506146
Marshall4435103
Warren4386121
Pontotoc420172
Monroe4107133
Union410076
Neshoba4030176
Lincoln3962110
Hancock378486
Leflore3493125
Sunflower335990
Tate333384
Pike3316105
Scott315773
Alcorn312768
Yazoo311469
Itawamba299777
Copiah296865
Coahoma295179
Simpson294988
Tippah288168
Prentiss279760
Adams278782
Marion269080
Leake267473
Wayne262641
Grenada261386
Covington258281
George247848
Newton246261
Winston227081
Tishomingo226667
Jasper221048
Attala214273
Chickasaw207757
Holmes188873
Clay185254
Stone182433
Tallahatchie178541
Clarke177980
Calhoun170532
Yalobusha164238
Smith162334
Walthall133945
Greene130533
Lawrence128524
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123042
Carroll121828
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107033
Tunica105226
Claiborne102430
Benton99525
Humphreys96533
Kemper95728
Franklin83623
Quitman80716
Choctaw76318
Wilkinson67230
Jefferson65528
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 531404

Reported Deaths: 10985
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson765501522
Mobile41036805
Madison34789503
Tuscaloosa25788453
Montgomery24340589
Shelby23449249
Baldwin21154308
Lee15882171
Calhoun14511314
Morgan14306279
Etowah13843353
Marshall12232223
Houston10570281
Elmore10068205
Limestone9974151
Cullman9676194
St. Clair9661243
Lauderdale9427241
DeKalb8831186
Talladega8227176
Walker7241277
Autauga6926108
Jackson6814112
Blount6678137
Colbert6306134
Coffee5519119
Dale4838111
Russell441538
Chilton4296112
Franklin426082
Covington4129118
Tallapoosa4023152
Escambia393677
Chambers3573123
Dallas3551152
Clarke351161
Marion3122101
Pike310977
Lawrence300398
Winston274473
Bibb260964
Geneva250477
Marengo249564
Pickens234461
Barbour231057
Hale223077
Butler216069
Fayette212562
Henry188844
Cherokee185245
Randolph180542
Monroe177540
Washington167339
Macon159650
Clay156756
Crenshaw152557
Cleburne148941
Lamar142535
Lowndes138853
Wilcox127130
Bullock122841
Conecuh110529
Perry107726
Coosa107628
Sumter104732
Greene92534
Choctaw60724
Out of AL00
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Columbus
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Oxford
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A few showers linger early in the morning. But these should gradually push away from our area, leaving us mostly cloudy and cool through the midday and afternoon hours. Some clearing may occur later in the afternoon, leaving us mostly clear by Thursday morning.
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