By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions will try to beat back a slate of aggressive competitors in Tuesday’s Alabama Republican Senate primary, a test how much President Donald Trump’s past censure has damaged Sessions in the deep red state.
Sessions, who held the Senate seat for 20 years, is now part of a seven person field — along with former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore jockeying for the GOP nomination and the right to challenge Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in November. Also in the race are Rep. Arnold Mooney, businessman Stanley Adair and community activist Ruth Page Nelson.
Sessions gave up the Senate seat when he was appointed Trump’s first attorney general, a position he was forced to resign after his recusal from the Russia inquiry sparked blistering criticism from the president. Sessions had been the first senator to endorse Trump, but in a twist of political irony, the president’s public scolding now threatens Sessions’ political comeback for a seat he once held securely.
The race has become a nasty slugfest to make the two-person runoff with the candidates trading barbs in speeches and over the airwaves.
The candidates have competed to portray themselves as the most loyal to President Donald Trump.
In Saturday campaign stops, Sessions reminded voters of his long history in the state, on issues like immigration and trade, and that he was the first to endorse Trump in 2016.
“We have to ask who will be most effective in advancing the beliefs of Alabamians,” Sessions said.
Tuberville, boosted by fame from years as a college football coach, has tried to portray himself as the political outsider in the race.
“This country is in trouble. Thank God we elected Donald Trump,” Tuberville said in a stop in Prattville.
Three-term congressman Byrne hit Alabama’s largest cities Monday in a rush of last-minute campaign rallies. Byre is giving up a safe congressional seat to run for Senate.
“People in Alabama are looking for a conservative fighter, someone with a real track record who just doesn’t talk about it,” Byrne said.
Trump has so far stayed silent on the race.
Voters expressed a mix of admiration for Sessions and a desire to move on.
“He is one of the most honest people I’ve ever known…. and loves the state of Alabama,” said Beth Yoder, a 76-year-old retired nurse, who came to a Sessions event.
Jeffrey and Debra Jones of Clanton had Tuberville autograph their hats during a weekend campaign stop before getting a photo in front of his campaign bus. Jeffrey Jones said they voted for Sessions in the past but Tuberville will get their vote this time.
“Before he threw Trump under the bus, I Iiked Jeff Sessions. He ain’t got no backbone,” Jeffrey Jones said.