Once a Trump critic, Ala. rep faces runoff with his support

Once a Trump critic, Ala. rep faces runoff with his support
© Greg Nash

Rep. Martha RobyMartha Dubina RobyOcasio-Cortez: 'I was stopped because it was assumed I was an intern' Insurgency shakes up Democratic establishment Dem House candidate claims Russians tried to hack campaign website MORE is favored to prevail in Tuesday’s GOP primary runoff in Alabama, with President TrumpDonald John TrumpForget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations Lara Trump: Merkel admitting migrants 'one of the worst things that ever happened to Germany' Financial satisfaction hits record high: survey MORE’s endorsement — and deep-pocketed Washington allies — providing critical support to the one-time Trump critic.

Roby, now in her fourth term in Congress, had faced major backlash from conservative voters after saying in 2016 she wouldn’t vote for Trump when the then-Republican presidential nominee was heard bragging about groping and kissing women without consent in a leaked “Access Hollywood” tape.

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Her disavowal of Trump has since continued to dog her, forcing her into a runoff on Tuesday against former Rep. Bobby Bright, the Democrat-turned-Republican whom Roby unseated in 2010, after she failed to win a majority of the June primary vote in Alabama’s heavily agrarian 2nd District.

But Roby, 41, won a critical lifeline after Trump endorsed her last month, lauding her as a “consistent and reliable vote” for his agenda.

Trump remains popular in deep-red Alabama, but the state also delivered the president an electoral setback after he backed appointed Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeGOP leaders dead set against Roy Moore in Alabama Domestic influence campaigns borrow from Russia’s playbook Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force MORE (R) in last year’s special election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsForget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations Sessions: It's time to accept the results of the Mueller report and move on Trump poised to roll back transgender health protections MORE (R).

Strange lost the GOP nomination to former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreGOP Senate campaign arm hits battleground-state Dems over 'Medicare for All,' Green New Deal The Hill's Morning Report — Category 5 Mueller storm to hit today GOP leaders dead set against Roy Moore in Alabama MORE, who went on to lose to now-Sen. Doug Jones (D) after allegations that Moore pursued romantic and sexual relationships with women decades his junior, including one who was a minor at the time.

Republican strategists in the state said that endorsements aren’t typically helpful for candidates in Alabama because people there don’t like being told how to vote, but they believe Trump’s backing is likely an exception as loyalty to the president increasingly becomes a key litmus test in contested GOP primaries this year.

“I think probably the Trump endorsement wipes the slate clean for her and gives her a clear path to victory,” said Steve Flowers, a political commentator and former GOP state legislator.

The winner of the runoff will face Democrat Tabitha Isner, a business analyst and first-time candidate, but the Republican nominee will likely cruise to victory in November since Trump won the district by more than 30 points.

Roby was first elected to Congress as part of the Tea Party wave of 2010, but she faced her toughest reelection in 2016 after rescinding her support for Trump, with tens of thousands of people casting write-in votes as a rebuke to Roby.

The June primary showed not all conservative voters have forgiven her. Roby failed to clear the 50 percent threshold needed to win the Republican primary even as she has been a fervent supporter of Trump’s agenda, voting with him 96.5 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight and visiting the White House a number of times.

Trump’s support could prove critical for Roby. His endorsements have most recently elevated Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) in their respective primaries. Meanwhile, Rep. Mark SanfordMarshall (Mark) Clement SanfordTrump keeps tight grip on GOP Endorsing Trump isn’t the easiest decision for some Republicans Mark Sanford warns US could see ‘Hitler-like character’ in the future MORE (R-S.C.), a vocal Trump critic, was defeated in June by Republican Katie Arrington, though Trump didn’t endorse her until hours before the primary.

Although Roby has consistently voiced her support for the president, she hasn’t disavowed her criticism of Trump in 2016.

“I have no regrets, but let me just say, the campaign is long over,” Roby said in a Fox News interview last week. “We have been governing, and President Donald Trump is just that. He’s president of the United States. Of course I want him to be successful, because when he’s successful, we’re all successful.”

Roby allies said they felt confident about her prospects in the runoff even before Trump’s endorsement. Aside from his backing, Roby also holds a huge financial edge over Bright. From mid-May to late June, Roby raised $746,000 and spent $683,000. That’s a huge money advantage over Bright, who raised $19,566 and spent $30,343 during that same period.

Roby also has outside help from the influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has spent nearly $200,000 on ads supporting her in the final week of the runoff. And Vice President Pence recorded a robocall supporting Roby that started airing over the weekend, according to BuzzFeed.

Plus, Bright faces his own obstacles as a former Democrat who served in the House from 2009 to 2011. He has been dogged by his past vote for House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDemocrats are playing voters on their fantasies for impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Trump tells House investigators 'no' Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary MORE (D-Calif.) as Speaker in 2009, with the Chamber of Commerce airing ads tying him closely to Pelosi.

Bright has argued that he’s been conservative even as a Democrat, touting his vote against ObamaCare and describing his vote for Pelosi as “procedural.”

In an interview with The Hill, Bright said Roby was trying to “mislead” voters over his record and paint him as still being a Democrat.

“I was conservative then, and I’m conservative now,” Bright said. “[Constituents] know I’m not an elitist or establishment in Washington.”

Alabama Republicans describe Bright, who also served as a former mayor of Montgomery, as a good retail politician with a base of support, but they say it may be hard for him to overcome his past.

“I don’t see how a former Democrat picks up steam in a Republican district against a president who is very popular,” said Jonathan Gray, a GOP strategist in Alabama.

“I think he’s got too much baggage. It’s difficult to be an Obama Democrat and turn around and run against a Trump Republican.”