WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Alabama Republicans nominated political neophyte Tommy Tuberville, the choice of President Donald Trump, to run for the Senate in November as voters in three states picked candidates Tuesday in races that will help decide control of the chamber.
Maine Democrats chose Sara Gideon, the speaker of the state’s House of Representatives, to face off against moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins, one of the Senate’s most at-risk Republicans.
But there was a close, ongoing battle in Texas between Air Force veteran MJ Hegar and Black state senator Royce West over the Democratic nomination to go up against Republican Senator John Cornyn in November.
In Alabama, Tuberville, 65, a former football coach, beat Jeff Sessions, a former U.S. attorney general who was fired by the president. Tuberville had 60.7 percent to Session’s 39.3 percent, with 94 percent of precincts reporting, the New York Times said. He will take on Democrat Doug Jones in the autumn.
Tuberville told supporters that Trump had called him to congratulate him, adding that he considered Trump “the best president in my lifetime.”
Sessions had hoped to return to the Senate, where he had been a member for 20 years before joining the Trump administration.
But Sessions told supporters Tuesday night he had no regrets about his decision, while Trump’s attorney general, to recuse himself from investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, though the move infuriated Trump.
“I did the right thing,” Sessions added.
While Republican stronghold Alabama went for Trump’s choice of candidate, Trump’s public approval across the country has dropped as the coronavirus pandemic surged through the United States, killing more than 130,000 people and throwing tens of millions out of work.
That is weighing on his fellow Republicans, dimming the re-election hopes of senators in Colorado, North Carolina and Arizona and leaving even senior Republicans in conservative stakes like Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky having to work harder than expected to defend their seats.
Republicans currently control the Senate, 53-47. Democrats would need to pick up four seats in the 100-member chamber for a majority if Trump is re-elected, or three if presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins the White House, giving the party a tie-breaking Senate vote.
Although the primary elections in all three states had been postponed from earlier this year because of the coronavirus, they were held Tuesday even as the number of new cases continued to surge in southern and western states. Texas saw a record 10,745 new cases on Tuesday, and Alabama reported a record daily number of 40 deaths from the coronavirus.
TOP DEMOCRATIC OPPORTUNITY
Democrats see Collins’ Senate seat representing Maine as one of their top pick-up opportunities. Gideon had been leading Collins by a few percentage points in recent opinion polls even before Tuesday’s primary.
Gideon had 69 percent of the primary tally, with Sweet at 22.6 percent and Kidman at 8.4 percent, after 50 percent of precincts reported, the New York Times said.
“We did it! Thank you to everyone who has supported our campaign to elect a senator who will fight for Mainers—not special interests. Onward to November!” Gideon wrote on Twitter.
The candidates for the Democratic Senate nomination in Texas were fighting neck-and-neck in a runoff contest.
Hegar, a former helicopter pilot, had 52.3 percent to 47.7 percent for West, with 71 percent of the vote counted, the Times said. Both Hegar and West said late on Tuesday they were confident they would win, but it was unclear how soon the race would be called.
West had trailed Hegar in the first round of voting in March. He said his work on criminal justice reform in the state legislature helped his late surge, amid growing calls for racial justice after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in Minneapolis police custody.
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