Trump-Backed Tommy Tuberville Sends Jeff Sessions Packing

Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville defeated Jeff Sessions in his bid to return to the U.S. Senate, a contest that had turned into a grudge match between President Donald Trump and his former attorney general.

Tuberville, who was declared the winner by the Associated Press on Tuesday night, had touted his background as a political outsider and a winner in the top echelon of college football, a big draw in the state. But he also leaned heavily on Trump’s endorsement and accused Sessions of having “cut and run” on the president when he complied with Justice Department regulations and recused himself from the Russia investigation.

Tuberville, 65, will have an edge in November running against incumbent Democratic Senator Doug Jones in one of Trump’s best states, though Jones, a former U.S. attorney, has a sizable war chest. That race is critical to Republican hopes of holding the Senate.

“Tommy Tuberville WON big against Jeff Sessions,” Trump declared in a tweet. “Will be a GREAT Senator for the incredible people of Alabama. @DougJones is a terrible Senator who is just a Super Liberal puppet for Schumer & Pelosi. Represents Alabama poorly. On to November 3rd.”

The Alabama contest marks a stunning fall for Sessions in the state, where he’d served as a U.S. attorney, state attorney general and three-term U.S. senator. His position was such that when he ran for re-election in 2014 he had no opponent in either the primary or general election. He gave up the seat to become Trump’s attorney general.

His defeat may serve as a warning to any other Republican lawmaker who might cross the president, even as Trump’s approval ratings have tumbled in recent months amid the resurgent coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest following the deaths in police custody of George Floyd and other African Americans, and a deep recession that’s thrown tens of millions out of work.

Sessions’s brand of populist opposition to immigration and free trade deals served as fuel for Trump’s rise in 2015 and 2016, with Sessions’s longtime staffer Stephen Miller becoming a key Trump adviser and speechwriter.

Trump rewarded Sessions with the top job at the Department of Justice. But that all went downhill quickly during the two-year investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which ensnared several of Trump’s campaign advisers.

Sessions in his concession speech endorsed Tuberville and said he had no regrets.

‘I Did the Right Thing’

“I followed the law. I did the right thing, and I saved the president’s bacon in the process,” Sessions said. “I leave public office with my integrity intact.”

Alabama’s was one of three Senate primaries Tuesday night that have significant implications for the control of the Senate, now in the hands of Republicans.

In Maine, state House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat, easily beat back challenges from her party’s progressive wing to take on Republican Senator Susan Collins, the AP reported.

Collins is among the most vulnerable GOP incumbents in November and Maine is one of the states Democrats need to flip for any chance to retake the Senate majority.

And in Texas, former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar was narrowly leading Royce West, a 27-year veteran of the State Senate, in a contentious runoff for the right to challenge incumbent Republican John Cornyn. Cornyn has ambitions to one day be the top Republican leader and is favored to win but faces an electorate that has started to trend toward Democrats in a politically chaotic year with soaring coronavirus cases in Texas.

Gideon and Hegar each had the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

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