Former football coach Tommy Tuberville cruised to victory Tuesday night in Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senate runoff, apparently spelling the end of the political career of Jeff Sessions, a former senator and U.S. attorney general.
Mr. Sessions was trying to regain the seat, but Mr. Tuberville, who once coached the Auburn Tigers and enjoyed the endorsement of President Trump, held a commanding lead throughout the night as the vote poured in.
The Associated Press and other news outlets called the race around 9:15 p.m., with Mr. Tuberville getting 63% of the vote, over Mr. Sessions’ 37%.
Mr. Tuberville predicted a united Republican front come November, saying Mr. Sessions graciously threw his support behind the former coach right away.
“Jeff Sessions and his supporters are going to be behind us,” he told supporters. “This is going to be hard. I haven’t taken anything for granted.”
The results were not held up by mail-in ballots, as more than half of the 43,683 absentee ballots requested were turned in before Tuesday, according to election officials.
Mr. Tuberville, 65, will now try to consolidate support to defeat Sen. Doug Jones, considered the most vulnerable Democratic senator this November. Alabama is a deeply Republican state that President Trump won with more than 73% of the vote in 2016.
Alabama’s GOP had maintained a studied neutrality throughout the runoff, but the National Republican Senatorial Committee congratulated Mr. Tuberville early in the evening.
“As a true political outsider, Tommy Tuberville has what it takes to stand up for the people of Alabama, conservative values and President Trump – and most importantly, defeat Doug Jones,” NRSC Chairman Todd Young said. “I look forward to another victory for Tuberville in November and working with him to build on President Trump’s and our Republican Senate Majority’s record of accomplishment.”
The ensure victory in November, Republican officials said they must increase voter turnout from what they got in the 2017 special senate election to take Mr. Sessions’ seat after he became attorney general. In that race, an estimated 600,000 GOP voters stayed on the sideline as Mr. Jones squeaked past former state supreme court justice Roy Moore, who had been accused of sexual misconduct with younger women decades ago.
Mr. Trump has worked hard for Mr. Tuberville since he endorsed the former coach prior to the March primary. On Monday night, in a “telephone town hall” Mr. Trump reiterated his attack against Mr. Sessions, 73, who recused himself almost immediately from the investigation into charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, which proved unfounded.
“I made a mistake when I put him in as attorney general,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Sessions, who had been the first senator to back Mr. Trump’s presidential bid. “He had his chance and he blew it.”
In the closing weeks of the runoff Mr. Tuberville fended off two issues that Democrats will likely revive in the upcoming campaign.
First, he was accused of being unduly soft on disciplining Auburn University football players who had been arrested or charged with crimes and, second, he was a partner in a failed investment fund that led to fraud convictions for other parties.
Investigators cleared Mr. Tuberville of illegal activity with the fund, however, concluding he had been one of its biggest victims and he claims to have lost $2 million.
Mr. Jones is nowhere near as liberal as much of the present Democratic Party leadership but he has cast several votes that put him out of line with many Alabama voters, including voting against confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and for impeaching Mr. Trump.
Money will not be an issue for Mr. Jones, whose biggest sources of the $8.2 million cash he had had at the end of March were employees of Google and the University of Alabama system.
Mr. Tuberville cited judicial appointments in his victory speech, and vowed to protect the Second Amendment.
“In Doug Jones’ Alabama the rule of law is mob rule,” he said. “Doug Jones is running for re-election with the slogan ‘One Alabama.’ Well, make no mistake about it, what Doug really means is one liberal Alabama.”