Alabama Democratic Sen. Doug Jones is one step closer to learning who he will face in November after Tuesday’s primary narrowed the Republican field to two candidates.
Former GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville advanced to a March 31 runoff to take on Jones, who is considered the most vulnerable senator up for reelection this year.
But Sessions could face a tough battle in the runoff for his old seat, since he was not leading the primary field when the race was called Tuesday night. Tuberville was ahead of Sessions, 33 percent to 31 percent, when The Associated Press made its call with 76 percent of precincts reporting.
Five other Republicans were on the primary ballot Tuesday, and the crowded field helped make a runoff unavoidable.
Whoever emerges from the runoff will have to consolidate Republican support in the deep-red state, which President Donald Trump carried by 28 points in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Leans Republican.
Jones will likely have a financial advantage over the eventual GOP nominee. His campaign had more than $7.4 million on hand as of Feb. 12
Sessions is looking to take back the seat he vacated in 2017 when he became Trump’s attorney general. Sessions did not leave the White House on good terms, with the president slamming him over his recusal from an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump has not yet weighed in on the Alabama Senate primary this year though.
Sessions had more money in the bank than the other GOP candidates heading into Tuesday’s primary, with nearly $1.9 million on hand as of Feb. 12. He began the race with $2.5 million, which was leftover in his Senate campaign account from previous races.
Tuberville is a political newcomer who decided to stay in the race even after Sessions jumped in, saying at the time that the former senator “had a chance to stand and defend the president and he failed.” Tuberville had $1.1 million on hand ahead of the primary, including a $1 million loan the candidate made to his campaign.
The primary featured plenty of attacks lobbed by the candidates at one another, but the race also attracted outside spending. The anti-tax Club for Growth Action spent $648,000 against GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne, who was in third place Tuesday night. Byrne received help from a super PAC called the Fighting for Alabama Fund, which spent $664,000 on the race.
Open GOP seats
Alabama has two open House seats in 2020. The GOP contest for the 1st District seat that Byrne vacated is headed to a runoff.
Former state Sen. Bill Hightower and Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl both had nearly 38 percent of the vote when the AP called the race with 88 percent of precincts reporting. Inside Elections rates the general election Solid Republican.
In the 2nd District in southeast Alabama, voters were also choosing a potential successor to retiring GOP Rep. Martha Roby. Moving company CEO Jeff Coleman and former state Rep. Barry Moore will face each other in a runoff.