Trump endorses Jeff Sessions' opponent in Alabama Senate race

The president said candidate Tommy Tuberville, the former Auburn University football coach, is a "winner."
Image: Jeff Sessions Is Sworn In As U.S. Attorney General
Jeff Sessions listened as President Donald Trump spoke before Sessions was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence as attorney general at the White House on Feb. 9, 2017.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

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By Allan Smith

President Donald Trump on Tuesday endorsed Jeff Sessions' rival in the Alabama Senate race.

"Coach Tommy Tuberville, a winner, has my Complete and Total Endorsement," Trump said of the former Auburn University football coach. "I love Alabama!"

The president tweeted that Tuberville "was a terrific head football coach" and "a REAL LEADER who will never let MAGA/KAG, or our Country, down!"

Tuberville responded on Twitter soon after: "Looking forward to helping you drain the swamp and #KAG!"

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Trump's endorsement comes after Sessions and Tuberville finished neck and neck last week in a Republican primary race that featured a handful of candidates. As the top two finishers, Sessions, who formerly held this Alabama Senate seat before joining the Trump administration, and Tuberville will face off in a runoff on March 31 since no candidate collected more than 50 percent of the vote.

Hours after Trump's tweets Tuesday night, Sessions responded, tweeting that Trump "can endorse anyone he chooses" but that he'd fought for the president's priorities.

After the primary last week, Trump trashed Sessions on Twitter, blaming him for his early recusal from the Russia investigation that would morph into special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

"This is what happens to someone who loyally gets appointed Attorney General of the United States & then doesn't have the wisdom or courage to stare down & end the phony Russia Witch Hunt," Trump wrote. "Recuses himself on FIRST DAY in office, and the Mueller Scam begins!"

The winner of the runoff will face Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., in November. Jones won Sessions' old seat in a 2017 special election against Roy Moore, who competed in this year's GOP primary. Jones is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate.

The president was privately itching to weigh in on the Alabama race for days prior to slamming Sessions after the vote last week, two people close to the president told NBC News.

Trump soured on Sessions soon after he recused himself from all matters related to Russia, calling him the "biggest mistake" of his presidency. He ousted Sessions one day after the midterm elections in 2018.

Trump allies warned Sessions that Trump would campaign against him if he ran for the Senate. Sessions has hugged Trump tightly in the campaign and argued that he is best suited to advance Trump's agenda. Tuberville, meanwhile, has adopted much of Trump's rhetoric on the trail.

Trump's approval in the state is 62 percent, according to a Morning Consult tracking poll.

Monica Alba contributed.