Previewing the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Alabama

The March 3 Republican primary for Senate in Alabama will decide who faces Doug Jones (D) in November. Donald Trump won Alabama by 28 percentage points in 2016. Jones won the 2017 special Senate election by 1.7 percentage points. The Republican primary features seven candidates, including several big names.

Former Sen. Jeff Sessions is seeking to win back the seat, from which he resigned in 2017 when President Trump appointed him U.S. attorney general. Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in the 2017 special election against Jones, is running again. U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, state Rep. Arnold Mooney, and former college football coach Tommy Tuberville are also in the race.

Two independent polls from early February showed Sessions and Tuberville leading, tied within margins of error, and Byrne in third. Sessions and Tuberville received around 30% support. To win the primary outright, a candidate needs a majority of the vote; otherwise, a runoff for the top two finishers will be held March 31.

Candidate messaging has largely focused on conservative credentials and who has been most supportive of President Donald Trump.

  • Byrne says he worked to end corruption in the state Department of Postsecondary Education and that his record as a U.S. House member demonstrates his support for the president.
  • Mooney describes himself as a conservative outsider, referring to his record in the state House and his years in the commercial real estate business.
  • Moore says he stood up for religious freedom on the Alabama Supreme Court and that allegations of sexual assault made against him ahead of the 2017 special election were false.
  • Sessions says he committed to the Trump agenda as a U.S. senator and in the Department of Justice.
  • Tuberville calls himself the outsider in the race who can stand with Trump.

Just over two weeks ahead of the primary, Byrne, Sessions, and Tuberville began releasing opposition ads criticizing one another over past conflicts with or comments about the president, among other issues.

  • Byrne and Tuberville criticized Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election during his time as attorney general. Sessions has defended his recusal and emphasized that he was the first senator to endorse Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.
  • Sessions and Tuberville criticized Byrne for saying that Trump was not fit to be president in 2016 following the release of the Access Hollywood recording. Byrne has said the comment was a mistake and that he worked to defend Trump against the impeachment effort in the House.
  • Byrne and Sessions ads said Tuberville supported amnesty for people in the country illegally. Sessions’ ads also featured audio of Tuberville criticizing Trump on veterans’ healthcare. Tuberville has said he does not support amnesty and that Trump has not been able to do everything he’d like due to resistance from others.

Republicans currently hold a majority in the U.S. Senate with 53 seats to Democrats’ 45. In addition, two independents caucus with Democrats. Alabama is one of two states, including Michigan, that Trump won in 2016 where Democrats are defending Senate seats. Republicans are defending seats in two states won by Hillary Clinton (D) in 2016: Colorado and Maine.

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