MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions lost the Republican nomination for what had once been his Senate seat in Alabama to former college football coach Tommy Tuberville.
Tuberville, 65, beat Sessions in Tuesday's Republican runoff as Sessions fell short in his attempted comeback for a seat he held for two decades before resigning to become President Donald Trump's attorney general in 2017.
Familiar to Alabamians from his decade as Auburn University's head football coach, Tuberville is now positioned for a strong challenge against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones. With Alabama's strong GOP tilt, the seat is widely viewed as Republicans' best chance to flip a seat as they try to maintain their thin Senate majority.
Texas and Maine also hold primaries Tuesday. Sara Gideon, the House speaker in Maine, won the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Sen. Susan Collins in the general election. Millions of dollars have already poured into that race, both to the candidate coffers and from outside groups.
Trump had made a last-minute attempt to end the comeback hopes of Sessions, ahead of Tuesday's Republican primary runoff, promising that Tuberville would have a direct line to the Oval Office if elected senator.
A precinct at a church in Montgomery County had a sign posted requiring masks to vote, and every person who entered over an hourlong period after lunch wore one, along with poll workers. People were spaced out in a short line to pick up ballots.
Sessions held the Senate seat safely for 20 years before resigning to lead Trump's Justice Department. He was forced out of the position when their relationship soured over his recusal in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Sessions said in campaign appearances that he had no choice but to recuse himself, because he had participated in Trump's 2016 campaign and could have been a subject or witness.
Trump endorsed Tuberville after Alabama's March primary, when Sessions finished just ahead of Tuberville with a third of the vote but well shy of the majority required for the nomination.
Trump called Tuberville supporters Monday night. Trump said his appointment of Sessions was a mistake and that "I will tell you that Tommy Tuberville is going to do a job like you haven't seen."
"He's going to have a cold, direct line into my office. That I can tell you," Trump said in the call. He also praised Tuberville's record as a football coach beating the University of Alabama.
In campaign appearances, it was not unusual for people to seek autographs or selfies with the former coach in a state where college football is king.
Tuberville ran a risk-adverse campaign, declining media interviews and Sessions' challenges to debate in the closing weeks of the campaign. Despite Alabama's fundamental Republican advantage, Tuberville is almost certain to face more scrutiny in a general election campaign against Jones.
In Texas, more than 1 million ballots were cast in early voting -- higher than most primary runoffs in recent years but only a fraction of the state's 16 million registered voters.
The election will settle primary battles that include Trump's former doctor, Ronny Jackson, trying to win the Republican nomination for a rural congressional seat. But the biggest race is who Democrats will pick as their Senate nominee to face Republican incumbent John Cornyn.
The Senate runoff is between Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, who narrowly lost a race for a House seat in 2018, and state Sen. Royce West, who if he wins would become Texas' first Black U.S. senator. That leaves for Democrats a choice over whether their best bet for an upset is the top vote-getter in the March primary who is backed by Senate Democrats' campaign arm, or a historic nominee in West, who has racked up endorsements from his former rivals in the race and Texas lawmakers.
For now, both remain underdogs against Cornyn, a three-term Senate veteran who has a hefty stockpile of campaign dollars.
Also on the ballot Tuesday is former Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who was ousted from his longtime Dallas district in 2018. He is trying to return to Washington by running for a rural seat in Waco. His challenger, Renee Swan, has the backing of the retiring incumbent, Rep. Bill Flores, who has criticized his former colleague in Congress for abruptly switching to a more GOP-friendly district to run.
Information for the article was contributed by Kim Chandler, Bill Barrow, Jonathan Lemire and Paul J. Weber of The Associated Press; and by Paul Kane of The Washington Post.