In a speech that seemed surprisingly calm, former United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions reflected on nearly 40 years in public service as he conceded defeat to a political newcomer in Alabama’s GOP Senate primary after a lopsided loss Tuesday night.
Before a group of supporters in Mobile, Sessions congratulated former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville on his victory in the race, discussed his contentious relationship with President Doanld Trump and reflected on the past and future Alabama’s Republican party.
Sessions said he helped start the first chapter of the College Republicans at Huntington College as a young man and watched the party grow from an afterthought in Alabama politics to controlling every statewide office with the exception of one — the U.S. Senate seat he held for 20 years before becoming attorney general.
Despite a primary runoff that was heated at times, Sessions said Tuberville ran a fine race and would have his support as he takes on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in the general election in November. He suggested Jones does not represent the “frugal, conservative, Christian, church going” people of Alabama.
“I look forward to helping Tommy Tuberville win in November. Doug Jones seeks to have Chuck Schumer as the majority leader in the United States Senate and wishes to see the policies of Nancy Pelosi prevail over Alabama’s principles,” Sessions said. “He’s used the platform of Alabama voters to advance a liberal Democratic agenda too long and that must end.”
Despite being Trump’s earliest supporter in the Senate and his first attorney general, Sessions quickly fell out of favor with the president after he recused himself from a federal investigation into allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. He was fired by the administration just days after the 2018 midterms, and was a late entrant in the Senate race last fall.
The loss of Trump’s confidence appears to have doomed any chance Sessions had to return to the Senate, and their fractured relationship became a central theme Tuberville exploited. Refusing to debate and avoiding many interviews, the former football coach rode the chief executive’s coattails to victory.
Trump quickly backed Tuberville after the primary election, even recording robocalls on his behalf and tweeting that Sessions had “no courage and ruined many lives.” Recent polls indicated Tuberville had a commanding lead going into the runoff, where voter turnout was expected to be low.
The race was called about 80 minutes after the polls closed, as the early returns reflected broad support around the state for Tuberville. Even most of Sessions’ base in south Alabama appears to have turned its back on him, with only Mobile, Madison and Wilcox counties showing him majorities of support.
With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Tuberville had 61 percent of the more than 518,000 votes cast statewide. Locally, Sessions carried Mobile County with just 51 percent of the vote but Tuberville secured 55 percent of the ballots cast across the bay in Baldwin County.
Sessions said he felt he and his campaign team had made some progress in the final days of the runoff but it ultimately “wasn’t enough.” Addressing supporters, Sessions once again defended the recusal that turned Trump’s ire toward him and ultimately doomed his attempt to reclaim his lost Senate seat.
“I leave with no regrets and with my integrity intact. I was honored to serve the people of Alabama in the Senate and was extraordinarily proud of my accomplishments as attorney general,” he said. “As far as the recusal, I followed the law. I did the right thing and I saved the president’s bacon in the process. Any action to the contrary to try to squelch the investigation would have been disastrous in that environment.”
Tuberville will face incumbent Jones, a Democrat, in the general election Nov. 3. At his victory party in Auburn tonight, Tuberville thanked Sessions for the campaign and his service to the state and country.
“It’s hard being in public life that long, but I know Jeff Sessions and his supporters are going to be behind us,” he said. “We need everybody on deck, this is going to be hard.”
Rallying his base with nods to Trump, Tuberville called the COVID-19 pandemic the “China virus” and spoke about farmers and veterans. He also wasted no time targeting Jones for not supporting the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and voting to convict Trump on two articles of impeachment earlier this year.
Jones will start the general election with a significant fundraising lead because he did not face any opposition during what proved to be a lengthy primary, but Tuberville seemed confident Jones’ victory in 2017 will be a one-off and Alabama Republicans will unite behind him heading into November.
“Doug Jones is running for Senate with the slogan ‘One Alabama.’ What he really means is one liberal Alabama,” Tuberville said. “It is time we have a senator who represents Alabama values, not New York values, not Chicago values, not liberal values … It’s our intention to reclaim Alabama’s Senate seat.”
Gabriel Tynes contributed to this report.
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