Former Sen. Jeff Sessions and onetime Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville were neck and neck in the Republican primary race for the Senate on Tuesday night and will face off in a runoff election later this month, NBC News projects.
On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump trashed Sessions, his former attorney general, on Twitter, blaming Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation that wound up being led by former special counsel Robert Mueller.
Tuberville had 33.4 percent and Sessions took 31.6 percent, with 99 percent reporting.
"I will fight for Alabama every day, and we will win the Republican nomination on March 31," Sessions told a crowd of supporters Tuesday night. He argued that he was a proven and vetted supporter of President Donald Trump and said Tuberville would be further vetted during the next phase of the race.
They are trailed by three-term GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne, who had 27.3 percent of the vote, while 6.8 percent of voters had cast ballots for Roy Moore, who lost a previous Senate race amid allegations that he'd had improper sexual contact with young girls. Moore won't make the runoff, NBC News projects.
November 2019: Jeff Session announces run for Senate in AlabamaNov. 8, 201904:29
The GOP race heads to a runoff since none of the candidates was over 50 percent in the crowded primary. The winner will go up against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who won the seat in a 2017 special election against Moore and is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate.
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Sessions, once the state's popular senior senator, left the job to become President Donald Trump's attorney general. But the president soured on Sessions when he recused himself from the Russia investigation, and the president ousted him the day after the midterm elections in November.
Trump has trashed Sessions — calling him the "biggest mistake" of his presidency and criticizing his leadership as attorney general. Trump allies even warned Sessions that the president would campaign against him if he ran, although the president has so far stayed silent.
The candidates didn't stay silent about Trump, however: The president has a 62 percent approval rating in Alabama, and the Senate primary revolved around who was more committed to the president.
Sessions ran as his "No. 1 supporter" and boasted that he was an early endorser.
Tuberville, who rose to prominence leading Auburn to a slew of titles over a decade, adopted a Trump-like political persona in his bid. He did a bus tour called "The People vs. The Swamp Tour," and he derides "fake news."
CORRECTION (March 4, 2020, 10:48 a.m.): A previous version of this article misstated when Roy Moore was the Republican candidate for Senate. It was 2017, not 2018.