Jeff Sessions loses comeback bid in Alabama runoff

Former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsRoy Moore sues Alabama over COVID-19 restrictions GOP set to release controversial Biden report Trump's policies on refugees are as simple as ABCs MORE failed in his bid to reclaim his old Senate seat after losing to former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville in the Alabama GOP runoff on Tuesday. 

Tuberville was leading Sessions 63 percent to 37 percent with 35 percent of precincts reporting, according to The Associated Press.

The former football coach will go on to face Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) in November. Jones is considered the most vulnerable Democrat facing reelection in 2020 in a race The Cook Political Report rates as "Lean Republican."

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The runoff comes months after the state's Republican primary in March, when neither Sessions nor Tuberville cleared a majority.  

Sessions congratulated Tuberville in a speech.

"He ran a really firm, solid race. He was focused on his goal and winning. He had a plan to do so," Sessions said. "He is our Republican nominee and we must stand by him in November." 

The loss marks the first for Sessions in a political career that spans more than 30 years in Alabama, including as attorney general and as senator for two decades.

Sessions has faced a barrage of public attacks from President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts MORE since 2017, when, as the administration's first attorney general, he recused himself from an investigation into Russia's election meddling. Sessions resigned in 2018 after an acrimonious relationship with Trump.

Trump continued his attacks on Sessions during the Senate primary and runoff, and he endorsed Tuberville, a move that likely helped boost the coach-turned-politician to victory. 

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Trump has his highest state approval rating in Alabama, where 89 percent of potential GOP primary voters said they approved of the president, according to a Morning Consult tracking poll.

The former attorney general has sought to defend himself against Trump's attacks, saying in a tweet on Saturday that Alabamians would make up their own minds. 

“I’ve taken the road less traveled. Not sought fame or fortune. My honor and integrity are far more important than these juvenile insults. Your scandal-ridden candidate is too cowardly to debate. As you know, Alabama does not take orders from Washington,” Sessions said.

Sessions said on Tuesday he was leaving with no regrets, saying he had saved "the president's bacon" by following the law and recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

"I leave with no regrets. I was honored to serve the people of Alabama in the Senate and I was extraordinarily proud of the accomplishments we had as attorney general," he said in his speech.

"On recusal, I followed the law. I did the right thing, and I saved the president’s bacon in the process. Any other action to try to squelch an investigation in that environment would not have worked. It would have really been a catastrophe and I'm so glad it finally ended after a prolonged time and the president has been cleared," he added.

Trump earlier on Tuesday had congratulated Tuberville for his win.

"Tommy Tuberville WON big against Jeff Sessions. Will be a GREAT Senator for the incredible people of Alabama. @DougJones is a terrible Senator who is just a Super Liberal puppet for Schumer & Pelosi. Represents Alabama poorly," Trump said in a tweet.

Tuberville received valuable face time with Trump during the campaign, accompanying him on a trip on Air Force One. Trump was even supposed to campaign for the former coach in Mobile, but the trip was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Tuberville largely kept a low profile in the run-up to Tuesday’s runoff amid polls consistently showing him ahead.

Republican internal numbers through the runoff period have shown Tuberville with a consistent double-digit lead. A GOP source recently told The Hill that they had not seen a “credible poll” with Sessions down by single digits.

Rachel Scully contributed

-- Updated at 10:27 p.m.