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Trump-Backed Football Coach Tommy Tuberville Defeats Native Son Jeff Sessions In Alabama Senate Runoff

TOPLINE

Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville defeated former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate GOP primary runoff in Alabama in a race that put the power of Trump’s endorsement to the test at a time when many in the Republican establishment are distancing themselves from him.

KEY FACTS

The New York Times called the race on Tuesday evening with 42% of precincts reporting, when Tuberville led Sessions by a landslide 26-point margin, 63% to 37%.

Tuberville narrowly finished first in the state’s jungle primary in March, with 33% to Sessions’ 32%.

As a former U.S. attorney general, three-term senator and state attorney general, Sessions’ experience and roots in the state far outweighed those of Tuberville, a former Division I college football coach and ESPN analyst who has resided part-time in Florida.

But Tuberville gained an advantage after the March primary: Trump’s endorsement, which has typically been a determinant factor in Republican primaries since 2017.

Trump went above and beyond for Tuberville compared to other candidates he has endorsed, tarring Sessions with charges of disloyalty and weakness for recusing himself from the Russia probe during his time as attorney general, a move Trump has long bemoaned.

But Tuberville was battered by scandals in the weeks leading up to the election, with reports alleging he handed down a one-game suspension to a player charged with rape and was involved with a fraudulent hedge fund.

Key Background

The jungle primary also featured Rep. Bradley Byrne and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Moore had attempted to launch a comeback after losing the 2017 special Senate election to Democrat Doug Jones, torpedoed by allegations that he sexually abused several underage girls.

News Peg

The result ends a recent losing streak for Trump-backed congressional candidates that has marred the president’s previously nearly perfect record in GOP primaries. In the last month, three Trump-endorsed candidates — Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.), Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) and Lynda Bennett in North Carolina — have lost in primaries. Meanwhile, Rep. Thomas Massie won renomination despite Trump calling for his ouster. However, unlike in those races, Trump both backed Tuberville while expressing vigorous opposition to his opponent.

Chief Critic

Other Trump-backed candidates in races on Tuesday didn’t romp to a landslide victory like Tuberville. As of 9:30 p.m. EST on Tuesday, former White House physician Ronny Jackson — whose nomination for Veterans Affairs secretary was derailed by allegations of abuse and over-prescribing medications — led his opponent by7 points in Texas’s 17th congressional district, while in the 23rd district, Trump-backed Tony Gonzales trailed Raul Reyes, who was endorsed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)

Big Number

5. Sessions had challenged Tuberville to a whopping five debates, typically a sign of underdog status. But Tuberville refused to participate in any.

Tangent

Trump had planned to hold a rally for Tuberville in June, but it was cancelled due to a surge of coronavirus cases in Alabama.

What To Watch For

Tuberville will go on to face Sen. Doug Jones. Alabama voted for Trump by 28 points in 2016, and Trump could very well carry Tuberville on his coattails. But recent general election polls show a surprisingly close race for such a Republican state, with Tuberville leading by 8 to 10 points. Jones also holds an enormous cash-on-hand advantage, with $8.2 million to Tuberville’s $450,000 as of the last FEC filing deadline. While Tuberville is likely the favorite, he has a tough race ahead of him

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