Jeff Sessions discusses his first competitive race in two decades, being confronted with questions about recusal on the campaign trail
CULLMAN — It has been a long time since Jeff Sessions has participated in a competitive election. This time he finds himself in a crowded field of Republican senatorial hopefuls vying for the seat he occupied for 20 years.
This week, Sessions has hit the campaign trail, making stops across North Alabama, including Huntsville and Guntersville. On Wednesday, the former U.S. attorney general met with law enforcement officials from the Cullman Police Department and the Cullman County Sheriff’s Department at the Cracker Barrel near the intersection of Interstate 65 and Alabama Highway 157, a popular breakfast stop for travelers and locals.
Sessions sat down with Yellowhammer News to discuss the campaign to date and why he thinks he should be under consideration to serve another six years in the U.S. Senate.
“People have been supportive as I’ve traveled the state,” he said. “We’re working really hard. We’ve made a lot of events. I’m going to take my case to the people of Alabama and seek their support. I believe that President Trump will be re-elected. I believe he’ll be a second-term president, and we’ll have a year or two that we need to get some important things done. I know the Senate. I am the most passionate and committed advocate for President Trump’s agenda in the Senate. I would be. I was before I became attorney general. If I go back, I would be that again, and we’ll have this window of opportunity to end illegality at the border, to protect some really strong trade policies, deal with China and support our military and not make the mistake of foreign interventions. All of those are big issues.”
“We need to continue the fabulous judicial appointments he has done,” Sessions continued. “We need to defend religious liberty. I wrote the government’s policy as attorney general on religious liberty. It’s a fabulous new policy. There are just a lot of things that need to be done quickly.”
Thus far, indications show Sessions is the front-runner among the Republican field competing in the March 3 GOP primary. However, the last time Jeff Sessions was not a lock to win any of his election contests came in the 1990s when he faced then-State Sen. Roger Bedford (D-Russellville) in 1996 vying for the seat Howell Heflin was vacating. He defeated Bedford by a 53-46% margin.
Similar to now, that 1996 race required Sessions to win a crowded GOP primary, which ultimately went down to a runoff between Sessions and former State Sen. Sid McDonald.
Two years earlier, during an election cycle that set Alabama and the rest of the South on a course to permanent Republican majorities, Sessions defeated incumbent Democrat Jimmy Evans in a 1994 contest for Alabama’s attorney general seat by a 57-43% margin.
Sessions explained technology had changed some things, but personal interactions remained an integral part of campaigning.
“The internet is a big difference,” he said. “The power of television ads are somewhat less. You still, though, need to meet with important groups like the law enforcement people we met today, and we met yesterday. You’ve got to have a grassroots. People have got to know you. They have got to know you’re authentic. Everybody makes speeches. Everybody runs ads. They basically say the same thing. One smart person told me that people have gotten sophisticated. They can identify if a person means it.”
Sessions explained part of the campaign has focused on visiting with civic and business leaders and touring the various new private and public facilities being constructed around the state. He emphasized the importance of those interactions in the role of U.S. Senator.
“Those are the things a state’s senator needs to be on top of,” he said. “If you’re not involved in those kinds of things that involve the federal government that are important to local communities, you’re not the kind of senator that people want. You have to do both. Today, I think people want a senator who is going to protect the state’s legitimate interests and who will defend and advocate effectively the values they share. I believe I’ll be able to strike a balance. Right now, we need to help Trump achieve his agenda, which is Alabama’s agenda and my agenda.”
A night earlier, during his appearance at a meeting of the Marshall County Republican Party, Sessions was confronted by attendees regarding his decision to recuse himself from the Department of Justice investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
During his speech at the event, Sessions explained his reasoning for the recusal, citing the specific Justice Department regulation. According to Sessions, the Guntersville event was the only time to date the topic had come up in a public setting.
“That’s the first time at any public meeting that somebody has raised it,” he said. “I just thought I would restate what I said before. One lady said, ‘You haven’t explained it.’ So, I thought I would explain it.”
Additionally, Sessions maintained he wanted the president to be successful and said he understood the frustration Trump felt given the seemingly never-ending saga.
“There was a lot of justification for his frustration throughout the whole process,” he said. “It just seemed to go for an interminable amount of time. Nothing was found, as I expected. But it surely seemed to me it could have been done quicker.”
Sessions insisted his record speaks for itself and emphasized the need for the Republican Party to own what he perceived to be a “right-of-center majority” in the country.
“I had a good record in the Senate,” he said. “People supported me. I was blessed not to have an opponent last time. People like my service. But it is a new day. They want to know what you’re going to do now. And sometimes, you have to remind them of what you did do in the past, so they’re confident that you’re authentic that you say you’re willing to stand up to the Republican establishment. I’m certainly willing to stand up to Democratic leftists and socialists and defend Alabama’s values. I’ve proven that.”
“I do believe there’s a conservative majority in America — certainly a right-of-center majority in America,” Sessions continued. “Republicans need to occupy that. To do that, you’ve got to appeal to people who go to work every day, who, until Donald Trump came along, had not had a pay raise above inflation in 20 years. That’s not right. The rich were getting richer, and so the socialists abandoned free enterprise, established socialism. We say you’ve got to be sure you’re creating policies that allow the working person to benefit from free markets, too. Trump has been able to do that. We want to keep that up.”