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U.S. Senate: Sessions, Tuberville advance to Alabama runoff, with Trump front and center

Texas Democrat MJ Hegar makes runoff; Cal Cunningham wins Democratic nod in North Carolina

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville topped the field in Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senate primary, setting up an March 31 runoff with the man who gave up the seat in 2017 to serve as President Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

And Trump, who opted not to endorse anyone in the first round of voting, was quick to demonstrate that he still carries a grudge against Sessions with a post-primary tweet attributing his second-place showing to a lack of loyalty: “This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn’t have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt.

Meanwhile in Texas, Democrats will decide a May 26 U.S. Senate runoff between the pick of the Democratic Senate establishment, MJ Hegar, and State Senator Royce West from Dallas. The winner of the runoff will take on Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn in November.

And in North Carolina, Cal Cunningham, a Raleigh attorney and former state senator, easily won the Democratic nomination to take on Republican U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, turning back a challenger who had been aided with more than $2 million in ads from a Republican-affiliated PAC.

Sessions and Tuberville declare victory (From WSFA, Fox 10)

In Alabama, where Republicans have high hopes of defeating Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones in November, Tuberville — making his first run for political office — won 33 percent to 31 percent for Sessions. U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, who gave up his House seat to make the Senate race, finished third at 26 percent.

Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who lost to Jones in a special election in 2017 amid allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with underage girls, won just 7 percent. Moore has denied the allegations.

In their election night speeches, both Sessions and Tuberville made it clear that fealty to Trump will be front and center in the runoff race.

Referring to Tuberville as a “tourist from Florida,” Sessions noted that he was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump in 2016 and accused Tuberville of being a johnny-come-lately to the Trump cause.

“Where was [Tuberville] when President Trump needed him? What did he do for Trump? Never said a kind word about him that I can find. Never gave a single penny of his millions to the Trump campaign,” Sessions said.

But Tuberville pointed to Sessions’s abrupt departure from the Trump administration after the president repeatedly criticized him for recusing himself during the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“We’re going to finish what President Trump started when he looked at Jeff Sessions from across the table and said, ‘You’re fired,'” Tuberville said. “Only one candidate in this race will support Donald Trump down the line. Doug won’t, Jeff didn’t, but Tommy will.”

In Texas, where the Democratic primary drew 12 candidates, Hegar, 43, a retired Air Force combat pilot who had the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, took 23 percent to lead the field, with Royce at 15 percent.

West has been a fixture in Austin for nearly three decades and is one of the state’s most prominent African American political leaders. He edged out Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, who ran as a “progressive,” garnering endorsements from a host of groups and figures on the left of the party, including New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

In North Carolina, Cunningham took 56 percent of the vote to 36 percent for State Senator Erika Smith from Gaston.

A group called the Faith and Power PAC poured spent more than $2 million airing ads promoting Smith as the “progressive” in the race. Federal financial disclosure records show that the group was largely financed by the Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC closely aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that appeared to be trying to complicate Cunningham’s bid to unseat Tillis.

The Senate races in North Carolina and Texas are at the top of the Democrats’ target list for 2020, while Jones is considered to be the country’s most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in dark red Alabama.

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U.S. Senate nominations up for grabs Tuesday in 3 Southern states

Republicans will sort out the Senate race in Alabama, while Democrats tussle in Texas, North Carolina

(CFP) — Alabama Republicans will decide Tuesday whether to reward or punish former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his love-hate relationship with Donald Trump, while a gaggle of 12 Democrats jockey for the right to take on Texas Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn in November.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the establishment pick for the Democratic nomination, Cal Cunningham, is trying to hold off two challengers, one of whom received unsolicited support from an unlikely source — a PAC affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Polls in Alabama and Texas are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time; in North Carolina, the polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 6:30 p.m.

In Alabama, the Republican primary pits Sessions against U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, a Mobile Republican, and Tommy Tuberville, the former head football coach at Auburn University making his political debut. The winner will face Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones in November.

Sessions held the Senate seat for 20 years before giving it up in 2017 to become Trump’s attorney general, only to resign in late 2018 after his relationship with the president turned acrimonious in the wake of Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Sessions parachuted into the Senate race last November, after Byrne and Tuberville had already been running for months. Since then, Sessions has gone out of his way to express fervent support for Trump, who carried Alabama by 28 points in 2016.

Trump has so far held his fire in the race, which polls show is likely headed to a runoff between Sessions and one of his two competitors on April 14.

Also in the race is Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who lost to Jones in a special election in 2017 amid allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with underage girls, which he has denied. Polls show Moore lagging the rest of the field.

In Texas, the Democratic primary race in appears to be headed toward a runoff between MJ Hegar, who holds a strong lead the polls, and one of her 11 competitors.

Hegar, 43, a retired Air Force combat pilot, burst onto the political scene in 2018 when she nearly unseated Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter in his central Texas district.  She entered the Senate race against Cornyn last April and raised nearly $4 million for the primary, which earned her an endorsement from the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Battling for the second spot in the runoff are veteran State Senator Royce West from Dallas; Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a labor organizer from Austin who has garnered endorsements from a host of groups and figures on the left of the party, including New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez; former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell from Houston; and Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards.

If no candidate gets a majority, the top two competitors will face off in a May 26 primary.

In North Carolina, Cunningham, a Raleigh attorney and former state senator, is running against State Senator Erika Smith from Gaston and Mecklenberg County Commissioner Trevor Fuller.

A group called the Faith and Power PAC poured spent more than $2 million airing ads promoting Smith as the “progressive” in the race. Federal financial disclosure records show that the group was largely financed by the Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC closely aligned with McConnell that appeared to be trying to complicate Cunningham’s bid to unseat GOP U.S. Senator Thom Tillis.

Smith has denounced the ads, accusing Republicans of trying to meddle in the Democratic primary.

Under state law, Cunningham needs to win only 30 percent of the vote on Tuesday to avoid a runoff on May 12.

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Two Southern Democratic senators representing Trump states vote to convict president

Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia likely to face blowback back home for supporting Trump’s removal

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two Southern Democrats in the U.S. Senate who represent states President Donald Trump carried in 2016 — Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted to find Trump guilty on two articles of impeachment, a decision that will subject them to significant blowback in their home states.

The other two Southern Democrats in the Senate — Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia — also voted to convict Trump, while all 24 Republicans representing Southern states voted no. Both impeachment articles failed to get the two-thirds majority necessary to remove the president from office.

Jones announces decision on Senate floor (From PBS via YouTube)

Jones — considered to be the most vulnerable Democrat running for re-election in 2020, in a state Trump carried by 28 points — said he concluded that “the evidence clearly proves that the president used the weight of his office … to coerce a foreign government to interfere in our election for his personal political benefit.”

“I fear that moral courage, country before party, is a rare commodity these days. We can write about it and talk about it in speeches and in the media, but it is harder to put into action when political careers may be on the line,” Jones said in a floor speech announcing his vote. “I did not run for the Senate hoping to take part in the impeachment trial of a duly elected president. But I cannot and will not shrink from my duty to defend the Constitution and to do impartial justice.”

Watch full video of Jones’s floor speech at end of story

Manchin didn’t disclose his decision in the impeachment trial until moments before the Senate began voting, with each senator standing and pronouncing Trump either “guilty” or “not guilty.”

“Voting whether or not to remove a sitting President has been a truly difficult decision, and after listening to the arguments presented by both sides, I have reached my conclusion reluctantly,” Manchin said in a statement released on Twitter. “I have always wanted this President, and every President to succeed, but I deeply love our country and must do what I think is best for the nation.”

Trump carried West Virginia by 41 points in 2016. However, unlike Jones, Manchin isn’t up for re-election again until 2024, which means he’s unlikely to face any immediate political consequences from his decision.

In the days before the final vote, Manchin had floated the idea of a Senate censure of Trump, which would have condemned his conduct without acquitting him on the impeachment charges. But the idea failed to gain traction among senators in either party.

Both Jones and Manchin also criticized the refusal by Senate Republicans to agree to introduce additional witnesses and documents into the trial, which Jones said “would have provided valuable context, corroboration or contradiction to what we have heard.”

The first article of impeachment, which accused Trump of abuse of power, failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority to remove Trump from office, with 48 senators voting guilty and 52 not guilty. The second article, accusing Trump of obstruction of Congress, failed on a 47-to-53 vote.

Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican to vote for conviction on the first article, joined by all 47 Democrats. The vote on the second article fell along party lines.

In 2017, Jones, a former federal prosecutor, won a special election to become the first Democrat to represent the Yellowhammer State in the Senate in 27 years. With the November election looming, he had been under considerable pressure to vote to acquit Trump, with Republicans organizing demonstrations outside of his Alabama offices.

Terry Lathan, chair of the Alabama GOP, said the senator’s decision showed that he “continues to take his marching orders from Chuck Schumer and his liberal California campaign donors.”

“Senator Jones once again is demonstrating his contempt for the majority of Alabamians who are opposed to impeachment,” Lathan said in a statement. “The voters of Alabama will keenly remember this day on November 3rd and replace Senator Jones with someone who will truly represent Alabama’s values.”

One of Jones’s GOP opponents, Bradley Byrne, called his vote the “final straw.”

“I’ve never been so fired up to take back this seat & send Trump a conservative fighter,” Bryne said on Twitter.

Another Republican competitor, Jeff Sessions, in an interview with Breitbart News, said Jones “clearly revealed himself to be a part of the Schumer team, the liberal team, that would create a majority in the Senate, that would make every committee chairman a Democrat—some of them radical Democrats—and all of which is contrary to the values of Alabama.”

Sessions held the Senate seat now held by Jones for 20 years before resigning in 2017 to become Trump’s attorney general. He is now trying to make a comeback by wrapping himself in the Trump mantle, despite a frequently frosty relationship with the president that led to his ouster from the Justice Department in 2018.

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Jeff Sessions wants his old job back as Alabama U.S. Senator

Sessions files to run in GOP primary to reclaim the seat he gave up to become Donald Trump’s attorney general

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — In 2017, Jeff Sessions gave up the U.S. Senate seat he had held for 20 years to become President Donald Trump’s first attorney general.

Now, after parting with the president on unhappy terms, Sessions wants that job back — but he’ll have to fight through Trump and a field of Alabama Republicans to get it.

Sessions, 72, who represented Alabama in the Senate from 1997 until 2017, announced November 7 that he will file the paperwork to run for his old seat, which is currently held by Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones.

Jeff Sessions announces Senate run on Fox News

“It’s not ‘my seat’ in the Senate, but I believe I have something to give,” Sessions said during an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show where he announced his Senate run. “I have some convictions that I think need to be pushed.”

“We need to get some of the Republicans moving. They haven’t been pushing hard enough to advance the Trump agenda,” he said.

Sessions also released a campaign ad which made it clear that he will try to run for the Senate as a pro-Trump candidate, despite his rocky tenure and messy split from the administration.

Watch Jeff Session’s campaign ad at the end of this story.

“When I left President Trump’s Cabinet, did I write a tell-all book? No. Did I go on CNN and attack the president? Nope. Have I said a cross word about our president? Not one time,” Sessions said. “I’ll tell you why. First, that would be dishonorable. I was there to serve his agenda, not mine. Second, the president is doing a great job for America and Alabama, and he has my strong support.”

With Sessions in the race, the looming question is how loudly and often Trump might weigh in against a man he repeatedly dismissed as “weak” and disappointing before eventually firing him.

In the wake of Sessions’s interview with Carlson, Trump told reporters Friday that he has not decided whether to get involved in the race and that Sessions “said very nice things about me.” While not endorsing Sessions, he did not unload on him, either.

On Saturday, the president is visiting Tuscaloosa for the Alabama-LSU football game, putting the state’s Senate race top of mind, particularly for Sessions’s new primary rivals who may be vying for demonstrations of Trump’s favor.

Sessions’s last-minute decision to run — on the final day to file — shakes up a Republican primary race that had already attracted eight candidates, including U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne from Mobile, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, Secretary of State John Merrill, and Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court justice who lost the seat to Jones in 2017 amid allegations of sexual conduct with underage girls.

Perhaps most affected is Byrne, who gave up his House seat to run for the Senate and could now end up out of office if he can’t beat Sessions, a proven vote-getter who has won five statewide races.

Byrne made it clear that Sessions’s fractured relationship with Trump will be part of the upcoming race.

“Alabama deserves a Senator who will stand with the President and won’t run away and hide from the fight,” Byrne said on Twitter.

Tuberville made the same point, calling Sessions “a career politician” who “failed the President at his point of greatest need.”

“[President] Trump said it best when he called Jeff Sessions ‘a disaster’ as AG and an ’embarrassment to [Alabama],” Tuberville said on Twitter.

Trump forced Sessions out as attorney general in 2018 after criticizing him for months for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.  The president called Sessions “weak” and said he regretted elevating him to the post.

Sessions’s candidacy did draw a quick endorsement from Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator, Republican Richard Shelby, who said Sessions would be “formidable candidate.”

“Jeff Sessions is a friend. I worked with him every day up here for 20 years,” Shelby said “He’s a man of integrity. Of course, he’ll have to run his own race, and that’s up to the people of Alabama.”

Sessions’s return is the latest twist in a topsy turvy political saga set off by his resignation to join Trump’s Cabinet.

Then-Governor Robert Bentley appointed Republican Luther Strange to the vacant seat. But when Bentley resigned amid a sex scandal, his successor, Governor Kay Ivey, ordered a special election to fill the vacancy, and Moore defeated Strange for the Republican nomination, despite Trump’s vocal support of Strange.

After Moore’s campaign imploded in scandal, Jones won a narrow victory, become the first Democrat to win a Senate race in the Yellowhammer State in 25 years.

Trump weighed in on the race twice, first to try to help Strange beat Moore and then to try to help Moore beat Jones, neither of which worked.

If Jones loses, the new senator would be the fourth person in four years to hold the seat, in a state that previously had not had a Senate vacancy in 20 years.

Jones is considered to be the most endangered 2020 Senate Democrat, running in a state Trump carried by 28 points, but is likely to benefit from turmoil in the Republican primary.

Watch Jeff Session’s new campaign ad:

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GOP’s Alabama headache returns: Roy Moore running for U.S. Senate

Former chief justice ignores Donald Trump’s plea not to seek a rematch of 2017 loss

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will try again in 2020 to get elected to the U.S. Senate, three years after his campaign for the same office imploded amid sexual misconduct allegations — and despite a Twitter plea from President Donald Trump to stay out of the race.

“Can I win? Yes, I can win. Not only can I, they know I can. That’s why there’s such opposition,” Moore said at his June 20 announcement, referring to Republican leaders who will now face the headache of dealing with Moore in the GOP primary as they try to reclaim the seat from Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones.

Roy Moore announces Senate run in Montgomery (WKRG via YouTube)

“Why does the mere mention of my name cause people just to get up in arms in Washington, D.C.?” Moore said. “Is it because I believe in God and marriage and in morality in our country, that I believe in the right of a baby in the womb to have a life? Are these things embarrassing to you?”

Moore’s candidacy is being opposed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of GOP senators, as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senator, Richard Shelby.

But it is the opposition of Trump — hugely popular in the Yellowhammer State — that may be the most formidable Republican obstacle in Moore’s path.

In a May 29 tweet, as speculation swirled that Moore might run, Trump said, “If Alabama does not elect a Republican to the Senate in 2020, many of the incredible gains that we have made during my Presidency may be lost, including our Pro-Life victories. Roy Moore cannot win, and the consequences will be devastating.”

Asked about the president’s opposition during his campaign announcement, Moore reiterated his support for Trump’s agenda and said he believed the president was being pressured to come out against him.

“I think President Trump has every right to voice his opinion. I think he’s being pushed by the NRSC,” Moore said.

Moore, 72, once again denied allegations made by five women that he pursued them sexually when they were teenagers in the 1970s — allegations that proved devastating to his 2017 campaign against Jones.

“I’ve taken a lie-detector test. I’ve take a polygraph test. I’ve done everything I could do,” he said.

Moore also said Jones’s win in 2017 — the first by a Democrat in an Alabama Senate race in 25 years — was “fraudulent” because he was the victim of a “false flag operation using Russian tactics.”

In late 2018, several news organizations reported that a group financed by a Democratic operative used Twitter and Facebook to spread disinformation against Moore, who lost to Jones by just 1 percent of the vote.

Jones, who has said he was not aware of what the group was doing, repudiated what he termed “deceptive tactics” and called for a federal investigation.

In his 2020 announcement, Moore said he suspected “Republican collusion” in the Democratic disinformation campaign, although he didn’t offer specifics.

Moore will be running in the Republican primary against a field that already includes U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne of Mobile, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, Secretary of State John Merrill from Tuscaloosa, and State Rep. Arnold Mooney from suburban Birmingham.

The two top vote getters in the March 2020 primary will advance to a runoff.

The challenge for the NRSC and Senate Republican leaders will be finding a way to work against Moore while remaining neutral among the other candidates. In 2017, their open support of Luther Strange backfired when Moore turned his ties with the Washington establishment into a potent campaign issue.

Moore first gained national notoriety as a local judge in 1995 after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

He parlayed that prominence into election as Alabama’s chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.

Moore was once again elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after telling local officials that they didn’t have to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

After losing an appeal of his suspension, Moore resigned from the Supreme Court to run for the Senate vacancy created when Jeff Sessions resigned to become Trump’s attorney general.

In 2017, Moore was able to use his base of support from his tenure as chief justice to get into the runoff, where he defeated Strange, who had been appointed to the seat temporarily by disgraced former Governor Robert Bentley.

Trump had backed Strange in the runoff but quickly got on board with Moore once he won. But after the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced, McConnell, Shelby and other Republican Senate leaders abandoned their wounded nominee, even announcing that they would expel him from the Senate if he won.

Jones, who now faces the formidable challenge of trying to hang on to his Senate seat in deep red Alabama, is considered to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the Senate in 2020.

Jones greeted Moore’s announcement with a tweet: “So it looks like my opponent will either be extremist Roy Moore or an extremist handpicked by Mitch McConnell to be part of his legislative graveyard team. Let’s get to work so we can get things done!”

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