MONTGOMERY, Ala. – To reclaim the Alabama Senate seat he held for 20 years, Jeff Sessions must first get through a competitive GOP primary with challengers eager to capitalize on his very public falling out with President Donald Trump.
The former attorney general is banking on his long history in state politics as he tries to persuade Republican voters that he is the best candidate to advance Trump's agenda.
“I am the same Jeff Sessions that faithfully and honorably and vigorously defended Alabama values in the U.S. Senate before. I am determined to be even more effective when I return to the Senate if the people allow me to," Sessions said in an interview.
Sessions gave up the Senate seat when he was appointed Trump's first attorney general, a position he was forced to resign after his recusal from the Russia inquiry sparked blistering criticism from the president. Sessions had been the first senator to endorse Trump— donning a red Make America Great Again hat and infusing the 2016 campaign with Washington credibility. But in a twist of political irony, the president's public scolding now threatens Sessions' political comeback for a seat he held securely for two decades.
At a candidate forum in Florence, Alabama, that Sessions did not attend, retired restaurant owner Yara Ruther, 67, was shopping for someone else to support in the seven-person field.
“He did not support Trump. That's a deal breaker," Ruther said, slicing her hand horizontally through the air to emphasize that she won't vote for Sessions this time.
Sessions said Trump wasn't happy about the recusal, but he did so because Department of Justice regulations required it. Still, Sessions has maintained his allegiance to the president.
“Where were my opponents when Donald Trump was in a titanic, billion-dollar campaign for the presidency of the United States, where our court system was a stake, our taxes and regulations were all at stake?" Sessions said.