VESTAVIA, Ala. (AP) — Republican Senate candidates in Alabama made their final pitches to voters in recent days ahead of a primary battle between former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a field of competitors angling for the seat he held for 20 years.
In a pair of campaign stops Saturday, Sessions reminded voters of his long history in the state, championing issues such as immigration and trade. He said the race is about “who will be the most effective in advancing the beliefs of Alabamians.”
He reminded voters that he was the first senator to endorse President Donald Trump and hoped they would look past Trump’s criticism of him and the president’s insistence Sessions resign as his attorney general.
“I’m just telling you I don’t need to take a back seat to people who say, ‘You didn’t support Donald Trump.’ I supported his agenda. That’s why I endorsed him,” Sessions told supporters.
Sessions is now part of a seven person field for the party nomination that also includes former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. The winner will take on Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in November. If no one gets a majority, the top two finishers will head to a runoff.
Betty Zeitz, a 77-year-old retired business owner who now raises cattle, attended a lunchtime meet-and-greet with Sessions in Shelby County.
“He has decency and integrity, plus all the experience of all those years. He will do the best job. We need him in the Senate,” she said.
While Trump has remained largely quiet on the Senate race, his past criticisms of Sessions — including calling him his “biggest mistake” — has made Sessions politically vulnerable in a state where he hadn’t faced a competitive race in decades.
“I wish Jeff Sessions had kept his butt at home,” said Mike Harris, a 65-year-old resident of Autauga County. Harris said he plans to vote for Tuberville.
“He’s not a politician,” Harris said, explaining Tuberville’s appeal to him. “I just pray that Tommy gets it cause I don’t think he’ll have any trouble beating Jones.”
Tuberville was greeted with the Auburn battle cry of “War Eagle” before getting up to address supporters during a Sunday campaign stop at Fat Boy’s Barbecue Ranch restaurant in Prattville. Afterward, people crowded around him asking for photos and autographs.
“This country is in trouble. Thank God we elected Donald Trump,” Tuberville said.
Sessions on Saturday greeted Republicans attending a pancake breakfast hosted by the Jefferson County Republican Party.
Among the Republican faithful, hunkered down at red-clothed tables strewn with campaign pamphlets and Aunt Jemima syrup bottles, some voters said they were still trying to make up their minds.
Wearing a “Dump Doug” sticker, retired engineer Alex Michaels said he was leaning toward Byrne but was still considering Sessions.
Byrne gave up a safe House seat to run for the Senate and finished a “Fire Doug Jones” tour with stops in the state’s four largest cities.
“People in Alabama are looking for a conservative fighter, someone with a real track record who doesn’t just talk about it. I vote with President Trump 97% of the time,” Byrne said.