How Trump Factors into Jeff Sessions’ Senate Run

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Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Senator Jeff Sessions speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC.

7:24 pm – This story and headline have been updated to reflect Sessions’ confirmed plans to run for U.S. Senate. 

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions joins a long list of Republicans who want to be Alabama’s next U.S. Senator.

Already on the list is Congressman Bradley Byrne, former Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, State Rep. Arnold Mooney and businessman Stanley Adair. But Sessions’ bid will be a major shift for this crowded Republican primary.

He steps onto the field with some major advantages – statewide name recognition, a political record that appeals to conservatives, $2.5 million in leftover campaign funds and the connections to raise more money. But Fred Shepherd, a political science professor at Samford University, says there’s a big potential weakness.

“His problematic relationship with none other than the president of the United States will be a big factor in all of this,” Shepherd says.

President Donald Trump has publicly berated Sessions for recusing himself from Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, going so far as to say that picking Sessions as attorney general was his “biggest mistake.”

But Trump is popular in Alabama, and while Sessions has said he still supports the president, UAB political scientist Angela Lewis says dealing with the Trump issue will be critical.

“In order for him to have a good shot at winning the nomination in the state of Alabama, he has to make peace with the Republican Party and the president. Now whether or not that’s possible, I don’t know,” Lewis says.

But even with political bruising, there’s still plenty of love for Sessions in Alabama, including from U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby and fellow Republican voters.

“I’m a Republican. Jeff Sessions has done a lot for the state and everybody, so I’m a big fan of Jeff Sessions,” says Austin Brower, an Alabama resident.

The winner of the Republican Primary will take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. But political observers say Jones faces a steep climb in winning reelection.

Lori Owens, a political scientist at Jacksonville State University, says Sessions entering the race isn’t necessarily good for Jones, but it could muddy the Republican field.

“So I imagine they are nervous about how this might split the vote in the primary and in the runoff. And does that open the door for Doug Jones to win a full term,” Owens says.

Republican primary voters will have their say on March 3rd.

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