Tommy Tuberville defeated Jeff Sessions in Tuesday's Republican Senate runoff election in Alabama, denying the ex-senator a chance to reclaim his seat, the Associated Press and other news outlets projected.
NBC News has not projected the race result.
The former college football coach will try to unseat Sen. Doug Jones, the most vulnerable Senate Democrat, this fall. Tuberville coasted to victory in the runoff with the support of President Donald Trump, who openly lobbied against Sessions, his former attorney general and an early supporter of his 2016 presidential bid.
Tuberville, a 65-year-old who coached in the state at Auburn University, not only cast himself as an ally of the president but aimed to leverage Trump's opposition to Sessions. The president has torn into Sessions since 2017, when the then-attorney general recused himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election in a decision the president blames for the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.
In a tweet Tuesday night, Trump said he called Tuberville to congratulate him after the victory. He argued Jones "represents Alabama poorly."
The president lobbied against Sessions throughout the runoff. In a tweet Saturday urging Alabama Republicans to support Tuberville, Trump called Sessions "a disaster who has let us all down." Sessions, who during his 20 years in Washington vouched for nativist and anti-immigrant policy that in many ways previewed Trump's politics, responded that he has "taken the road less travelled" and "not sought fame or fortune."
"As you know, Alabama does not take orders from Washington," added the 73-year-old Sessions, who Trump forced out of his administration in 2018.
After a clear defeat Tuesday night, Sessions conceded the race and urged Republicans to support Tuberville.
"And let me say this about the president and our relationship, I leave with no regrets. ... On recusal, I followed the law. I did the right thing. And I saved the President's bacon in the process," he said.
Jones, 66, won the 2017 special election to fill the remainder of Sessions' term after he left the Senate to lead the Justice Department. Jones, who has tried to carve out a moderate brand in the Senate, faces a daunting path to keeping his seat in a state Trump carried by nearly 30 percentage points in 2016.
The Alabama election is one of a handful of Senate races this year that will determine whether Republicans can keep control of the chamber. The GOP would need its Senate majority as a buffer against Democratic policy goals if presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden defeats Trump and his party keeps the House.
Democrats would need to gain a net four seats to flip control of the Senate. The GOP has to defend 23 seats this year, versus 12 for Democrats.
Tuberville has run on Trump's priorities such as repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Jones most notably differs from his GOP rival on health care. He supports strengthening Obamacare and expanding the Medicaid insurance program in Alabama.
The coronavirus pandemic ripping through the U.S. led to more absentee voting in Alabama. Voters had requested more than 43,000 absentee ballots and returned more than 26,000 of them as of Monday morning, according to AL.com. Roughly 18,000 voted absentee during the March 3 primary, the outlet reported.