Sessions pays the price for incurring Trump’s wrath, losing Alabama Senate race
By Elaina Plott and Jonathan Martin
As a longtime senator from Alabama, Jeff Sessions did nothing less than legitimize Donald Trump as a credible Republican candidate for president, endorsing him when no other big names did and championing him to conservative voters. As Trump’s star rose, Sessions’ rose, too.
But Tuesday night, as he sought once again to become a senator from Alabama, a job he loved, Sessions came crashing to the ground — and all at the hands of Trump, his ally-turned-patron-turned-antagonist-turned-sworn enemy.
Sessions was soundly defeated in Alabama’s Republican primary, The Associated Press reported, losing to a political neophyte, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, whom Trump had enthusiastically supported while denigrating Sessions.
With almost 100% of the vote counted, Tuberville had 60.7% of the vote, to 39.3% for Sessions.
“We’ve fought a good fight in this race,” Sessions said, addressing supporters at a small conference room at a Hampton Inn in Mobile.
“I want to congratulate Tommy Tuberville,” Sessions said, fighting back tears. “We must stand behind him in November. Doug Jones does not need to be our voice in Washington. He wishes to see the policies of Nancy Pelosi prevail over conservative Alabama principles.”
Sessions said he had no regrets about his decision as attorney general to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — an act that infuriated Trump and turned the president against him. “I followed the law,” he said, adding “and I saved the president’s bacon in the process.”
Tuberville will now face Doug Jones, the most vulnerable Senate Democrat up for election in November. Jones narrowly defeated Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court justice, in the 2017 special election to fill the seat vacated by Sessions.
Tuberville’s victory was the most prominent result in voting across three states Tuesday. In Maine, Sara Gideon easily won the Democratic nomination for Senate and will challenge Sen. Susan Collins in November, in what would be one of most closely contested, and expensive, races in the country this year. And in Texas voters in both parties went to the polls to decide runoffs in several House races and Democrats were picking a nominee to challenge Sen.
John Cornyn in November. Few Republicans had tied their political fortunes to Trump as Sessions did. As one of the loudest Senate voices for taking a hard line on immigration, Sessions had few allies among past GOP presidential candidates. Then came Trump, who not only ran on Sessions’ agenda but won on it — then brought Sessions forth from the backbench and installed him in what was supposed to be his dream job: attorney general.
What came next was a one-man cautionary tale about the risks of linking one’s career to a mercurial president to whom loyalty meant everything. Enraged that Sessions did not block the investigation, but instead recused himself, Trump made it his mission to humiliate his attorney general. He mocked Sessions’ Southern accent, hectored him on Twitter and belittled him in interviews — and only after all that did he fire him, days after the 2018 midterms.
When Sessions decided to try to reclaim his Senate seat, Trump, after initially resisting, did it all over again, unleashing his brand of personal vengeance to derail Sessions’ attempted comeback..
In perhaps the most trying stretch of his presidency, with his own poll numbers plummeting, the president made the most of the Republican runoff.
On Monday night, by which point it was clear Tuberville would triumph, Trump held a conference call with the candidate and his supporters, during which he again savaged his former attorney general — “He had his chance and he blew it” — and offered Tuberville a ringing endorsement.
The former coach “is going to do a job like you haven’t seen,” said the president, adding: “He’s going to have a cold, direct line into my office. That I can tell you.”
Tuberville, addressing his own supporters Tuesday night, accused Jones of upholding “New York values, Chicago values, liberal Democrat values” while calling Trump “the best president of my lifetime.”
In Maine, Gideon, the state House speaker, fended off nominal opposition from the left, which she largely ignored as she built a record-setting war chest. The race has already become the priciest Senate campaign in Maine history, thanks to a fundraising surge from liberals angered by Collins’ support for the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court two years ago.
Collins’ prospects will weigh heavily on the balance of power in the Senate, where Democrats are seeking to pick up the three seats that would give them a majority under a President Joe Biden. Collins, who is considered one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans, is facing perhaps her most difficult campaign as she seeks a fifth term.
Collins is trying to build a coalition that includes both Trump’s enthusiasts and detractors at a time when centrists like her are growing scarce.
Sessions had spent much of his campaign urging Alabama voters to remember that he was running against Tuberville — not Trump.
“The president has a right to speak up, but the president is not on the ballot,” Sessions told reporters after voting Tuesday in Mobile, while his granddaughters, wearing red Sessions campaign T-shirts, stood off to the side. “He’ll be on the ballot in November, and Alabama is going to vote for him, and I will be voting for him. But Tommy Tuberville is on the ballot now.”
As he did for much of the final stretch of the runoff, Tuberville avoided reporters Tuesday and let Trump’s endorsement speak for his candidacy.
Many who cast their votes in Sessions’ precinct Tuesday morning spoke fondly of the former attorney general. Kay Rehm, 69, said she voted for Sessions “mainly because he is so moral and ethical.”
“We know what we’re getting in Sen. Sessions,” Rehm said. “He’s been vetted, he’s been in government for over 30-something years. I personally have nothing against Tuberville, but we don’t know anything about him.”
In Texas, M.J. Hegar, an Air Force veteran who had the support of Senate Democrats, defeated state Sen. Royce West in a Democratic runoff to determine who will take on Sen.
Trump scored a victory in an open West Texas House seat, where his preferred candidate, former White House doctor Ronny Jackson, won a runoff.
In the race for the seat currently held by Rep. Will Hurd, who is not seeking reelection, Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz were on opposite sides of the runoff. The president offered a late endorsement of Tony Gonzales, the establishment favorite, while Cruz backed Raul Reyes, a more conservative candidate.
The most surprising news Tuesday came in a contest that won’t even be decided until next month. Shortly before he was to debate his primary opponents, Steve Watkins of Kansas, a first-term congressman, was indicted on felony charges related to whether he voted illegally in 2019.
In terms of determining the balance of power in Washington, though, no race Tuesday may have been more consequential than the Maine primary. The Senate race there is one of a handful that could determine control of the chamber, where Republicans have a majority, 53-47.
Gideon has already raised nearly $23 million, much of it from Democrats who are angry at Collins for confirming Kavanaugh and not taking a harder line against Trump.
And now that Gideon is officially her party’s nominee, she will receive $3.7 million, which has effectively been sitting in escrow for the Democratic nominee since Collins’ Kavanaugh vote.