WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to reclaim his old Senate seat from Alabama, where he’s been a conservative icon and dominant vote-getter since the 1990s.
But it’s already clear that President Donald Trump’s enmity toward him and an established field of competitors means he’ll have to battle his way to the Republican nomination.
And early indications are that he may not have robust help from former GOP Senate colleagues, either.
“The people in Alabama will figure this out,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told The Associated Press on Thursday when asked if it’s a good idea for Sessions to run. “We do want to get that seat back, and I’m hopeful we will.”
Several knowledgeable Republicans told the AP that Sessions, 72, who held the seat for two decades, plans to announce Thursday that he’ll run for the GOP Senate nomination.
Sessions was senator until becoming Trump’s first attorney general in 2017. Democrat Doug Jones won the seat from the deep-red state in a special election later that year, defeating Republican Roy Moore, the right-wing lightning rod who faced allegations of sexual misconduct.
Jones is the most vulnerable Senate Democrat facing reelection next year. Both sides see the battle over the Alabama seat as crucial as Republicans fight to retain the majority in the chamber, which they now control 53-47.
Trump turned on Sessions because Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russia’s connections with Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. He’s attacked Sessions repeatedly in speeches and on Twitter ever since.
And while politicians, operatives and analysts expect Sessions to become an immediate frontrunner for the GOP nomination, the big unknown is how Trump and his Alabama supporters will react.
“If Trump takes on Sessions, I don’t know what happens,” Marty Connors, a former chair of the Alabama Republican Party, said in an interview.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who is close to Trump, said Sessions was “a great senator” but said he would stay out of the race.
“Jeff knows what he’s getting into,” Graham said. “The campaign’s going to be a lot about what President Trump said about Jeff Sessions. I’m sure he’s ready to handle that.”
Some Republicans are already worried that Sessions’ entry into the race could make it easier for Moore to make it to a runoff election, which would be required if no candidate wins a majority.
Sessions’ candidacy could further divide the vote of Republicans who oppose Moore.
Candidates already contending for the nomination include former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville and Rep. Bradley Byrne. Both are already criticizing Sessions of insufficiently defending Trump.
Asked about his reaction to Sessions’ candidacy, Jones told reporters Thursday to study the reaction of the other GOP candidates.
“They seem to be the ones running around with their hair on fire right now,” he said.
Jones went further in a separate interview on SiriusXM’s “The Joe Madison Show.”
“You’ve got somebody else jumping in there that the president of the United States has said it was the biggest mistake he’s ever made by appointing him,” Jones said.
Jones has already run social media fundraising ads, with a photo of Sessions next to McConnell with the caption, “Too extreme. Too divisive.”