ABBEVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Rep. Martha Roby is seeking Republican redemption in an Alabama runoff election that hinges on her loyalty to President Donald Trump.
Roby is facing Democrat-turned-Trump Republican Bobby Bright on Tuesday, trying not to become the third congressional Republican to lose her job this primary season.
From the outside, the race shouldn’t be close. Roby is a four-term incumbent in deep-red Alabama. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have endorsed her. And her Republican opponent supported Nancy Pelosi when he served as a Democrat in Congress.
But as is often the case in the Trump era, the conventional rules of politics do not apply.
Roby’s political survival depends on whether Alabama voters are sufficiently convinced that she’s made amends for turning her back on Trump in 2016 after he was caught bragging about sexually predatory behavior in the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape.
The remarks, she said at the time, made Trump “unacceptable” as a Republican candidate for president. She’s spent much of the last two years trying to convince her red-state constituents in Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District that she is a reliable vote for the administration.
Deborah Gilliam, a registered nurse from Millbrook, Ala. who was casting her ballot at the Millbrook Civic Center, said Roby’s comments about Trump bothered her but she ultimately voted for her. She said Roby hasn’t done anything too terrible, and felt uneasy with Bright’s party switch.
“It was a toss up,” Gilliam said. “I’ll give her one more chance. Bright, he switched from Democrat to Republican. You don’t know if they’re doing it for votes. You don’t know if they’re doing it ’cause they really want to help.”
Roby failed to convince a majority of Republican primary voters back in June, earning just 39 percent of the vote in the first primary contest, which forced a runoff against the second-place vote getter.
Despite her past criticism, the Trump White House has emerged as Roby’s most powerful backer.
Trump himself endorsed Roby on Twitter, calling her a “reliable vote for our Make America Great Again Agenda” and bashing Bright as “a recent Nancy Pelosi voting Democrat.”
Vice President Mike Pence recorded automated calls for Roby distributed to district voters beginning on Saturday. He calls Roby a reliable vote for the Trump agenda and urged voters to send her back to Congress.
“We can always count on her vote,” Pence says in the call.
Armed with an endorsement from Trump, Roby has argued that she’s “a conservative Republican with a proven record.”
“I’ve worked with the administration to get conservative policies across the finish line. My opponent voted for Nancy Pelosi to be speaker,” Roby said during a campaign stop at a south Alabama lumber company. She also touted her support for a border wall and opposition to abortion.
Bright, who represented the district for two years as a Democrat, argues that he’s more conservative than Roby, whom he calls an establishment Republican who hasn’t “stayed connected” with the heavily agrarian and military district.
“I’m not an elitist. I’m not what they refer to as a blue blood. I’m a populist. I talk with the people and so does (Trump),” said Bright, the 13th of 14 children born into a sharecropping family.
Roby has enjoyed a 5-to-1 fundraising advantage over Bright. She’s used the arsenal to hammer Bright in television ads over his Democratic background — particularly his 2009 vote for Pelosi as House speaker.
A mailer distributed by Roby’s campaign promotes Trump’s endorsement and lists Pelosi’s name five times in attacking Bright.
While many Washington Republicans expect Roby to win on Tuesday, the anticipated low turnout in the midsummer affair offers an air of unpredictability. Less than 20 percent of eligible voters are expected to participate.