(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington
By Susan Cornwell
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 on Tuesday for 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.
Texas Democrats narrowly voted for Air Force veteran MJ Hegar over Black state senator Royce West for the Democratic nomination to take on Republican Senator John Cornyn in November, the New York Times said. Texas has long been dominated by Republicans but analysts say changing demographics have made it more competitive.
Tuberville, 65, a former football coach, beat Jeff Sessions, a former U.S. attorney general who was fired by the president, in Alabama. Tuberville had 60.7 percent to Session’s 39.3 percent, with 94 percent of precincts reporting, the New York Times said. In the autumn, Tuberville will take on Senator Doug Jones, widely considered the chamber’s most vulnerable Democrat.
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 on 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, although the move infuriated Trump.
“I did the right thing,” Sessions said.
Despite the Alabama vote, Trump’s public approval across the country has dropped as the coronavirus pandemic has 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 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 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.
Hegar declared victory late Tuesday in a close contest with West for the Democratic Senate nomination in Texas. Hegar, a former helicopter pilot, had 52.1 percent to 47.9 percent for West, with 79 percent of the vote counted, the Times said.
But West did not immediately concede. “At last count, 37,000 votes remained uncounted,” his spokesman, Vince Leibowitz, said. “Out of respect for those who cast their votes in this historic election, Senator West will issue a statement in the morning, hoping more votes are tabulated by then.”
(additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Osterman, Michael Perry and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Trump pick wins nomination in Alabama as three U.S. states choose Senate candidates