Washington (AFP) - Former US attorney general Jeff Sessions was fighting to reclaim his old Senate seat in Tuesday's tight Alabama primary runoff between two Republicans claiming to be fervent allies of President Donald Trump.
The contest in the deep-red southern state is seen as a test of Trump's influence over his core supporters amid broad frustration with his bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic and his handling of protests against racial injustice.
The race pits Sessions -- who still claims devotion to Trump even as the president slams him as a failed attorney general -- as the underdog against retired football coach Tommy Tuberville, a political novice who has Trump's endorsement.
Alabama remains passionately pro-Trump, and the president, still angry over Sessions' 2017 recusal from the probe into Russia's election meddling, has inserted himself squarely into the race.
At the weekend he trashed Sessions and praised Tuberville, who finished first in the March primary but fell short of avoiding a runoff.
"Jeff Sessions is a disaster who has let us all down," Trump seethed on Twitter. "We don't want him back in Washington!"
On Monday Trump spoke with Tuberville supporters and said the former Auburn University head coach is "going to have a call-direct line into my office."
Tuberville paints Sessions as weak, declaring in a campaign ad: "He wasn't man enough to stand with President Trump when things got tough."
Sessions, 73, argues Tuberville only recently moved to Alabama and lacks conservative convictions.
Sessions also reminds voters of his loyalty to the president. Five years ago he was the first senator to endorse Trump, who rewarded him with a cabinet position.
Sessions has the kind of resume that under normal conditions would make him a virtual lock in conservative Alabama.
He would put Republicans in a strong position to reclaim the seat in November from Democratic Senator Doug Jones, who narrowly won a 2017 special election against a deeply flawed candidate.
Jones is the most endangered 2020 Democrat, but the party nonetheless hopes anti-Trump sentiment can help them reclaim control of the Senate.
Primaries were also being held Tuesday in Maine and Texas, where Democrats decide who will challenge the Republican senators from those states.