MOBILE, Ala. (News Nation/AP) — Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions lost the Republican nomination for his old Senate seat in Alabama to former college football coach Tommy Tuberville.
Tuberville, 65, beat Sessions in Tuesday’s Republican runoff as Sessions fell short in his attempted comeback for a seat he held for two decades before resigning to become Trump’s attorney general in 2017.
Familiar to Alabamians from his decade as Auburn University’s head football coach, Tuberville will now vie for the seat against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones.
Sessions, 73, was criticized by President Donald Trump after he recused himself in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. Sessions, who’d been the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump during the GOP presidential primary campaign, insisted he was required by law to recuse because he was a potential subject and witness given his campaign ties to the president.
Trump endorsed Tuberville after Alabama’s March primary, when Sessions finished just ahead of Tuberville with a third of the vote but well shy of the majority required for the nomination. The president tweeted: “3 years ago, after Jeff Sessions recused himself, the Fraudulent Mueller Scam began. Alabama, do not trust Jeff Sessions. He let our Country down. That’s why I endorsed Coach Tommy Tuberville (@TTuberville), the true supporter of our #MAGA agenda!”
The president continued his criticism of Sessions right up to the eve of Tuesday’s election.
“I made a mistake when I put him in as the attorney general,” Trump told Tuberville supporters on Monday. “He had his chance and he blew it.
In the closing weeks of the runoff campaign, Sessions answered Trump directly on Twitter, telling the president he was “damn fortunate” Sessions recused because it “protected the rule of law & resulted in your exoneration.”
But it wasn’t enough to overcome dynamics that Tuberville publicly embraced. Boosted by both Trump’s endorsement and name recognition from his coaching tenure, Tuberville positioned himself as a political outsider and capitalized on the president’s criticisms of Sessions.
“Jeff Sessions was a disaster It’s time to send a message to Jeff Sessions that President Trump does not want him or his cronies in the swamp,” Tuberville wrote on Twitter.
Wednesday, Tuberville told Nexstar affiliate WIAT he would talk through trying to hold a debate with Jones.
“[I’m] looking forward to it,” Tuberville said. “The big deal now is people have a choice, one side [or] the other, and I’m just looking forward to kind of getting back to the trail in a different game. We’ve been playing this game for a long time.”
Sessions has maintained loyalty to Trump, noting his early decision to back Trump and arguing he would be most effective in advancing Trump’s agenda. Sessions memorably took the stage with Trump at a 2015 rally at the municipal football stadium in Sessions’ hometown of Mobile. The event, which drew tens of thousands, stood out in retrospect as the launch of Trump’s mega-rally approach that helped propel him to his general election upset of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
After his loss Tuesday night, Sessions continued to vocalize support for Trump.
“I think it’s time for this Republican Party to listen to the Donald Trump agenda because he has talked about those things frankly and openly,” Sessions said, adding that the president can win a second term — as long as he “stays on message.”
When he wasn’t defending his loyalty to the president, Sessions tried to focus on his long history in office and questions about Tuberville’s background.
“You know me. You know I can be trusted,” Sessions told voters during a recent campaign stop.
Sessions, once Alabama attorney general and a U.S. attorney under President Ronald Reagan, was elected to the Senate in 1996. He was just the second elected Republican senator from Alabama since the end of post-Civil War Reconstruction. That first win, which came as the South continued its shift from Democratic to Republican domination, was hotly contested. But Sessions wouldn’t be seriously challenged again in three subsequent reelection campaigns before Trump picked him as attorney general.
“I leave elected office with my integrity intact,” Sessions said, initially standing alone before his grandchildren joined him in front of reporters after the runoff was called for Tuberville Tuesday evening. “I hold my head high.”
“Let me say this about the president and our relationship. I leave with no regrets,” Sessions said. “I was honored to serve the people of Alabama in the Senate, and I was extraordinarily proud of the accomplishments we had as attorney general.”
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