(CN) – Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions Thursday announced his run for the Alabama Senate seat he held for 20 years, instantly shaking up an already crowded Republican primary field vying to challenge Democratic Senator Doug Jones in 2020.
Sessions, 72, returns to the national political spotlight exactly one year after resigning as President Donald Trump’s first attorney general amid the president’s relentless badgering over his decision to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation.
“The left has become unhinged and they are threatening the very things that make America great,” Sessions tweeted on Thursday. “I’m running for U.S. Senate because we have to fight back.”
If nominated, he would take on Senator Doug Jones, a Democrat who narrowly defeated former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in a 2017 special election to fill Sessions’ seat in the conservative Deep South state.
Sessions is a well-known figure to Alabama voters who is likely to soak up big-name endorsements and fundraising dollars. A staunch opponent of illegal immigration, he spent two decades as the state’s ultra-conservative senator, from 1997 to 2017, before serving 21 months as head of the Trump administration’s Justice Department.
But Sessions’ rocky relationship with Trump complicates his political comeback. After Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, Trump made a habit of lambasting his attorney general, declaring Sessions “a disgrace” and the “biggest mistake” of his presidency, among other harsh criticisms.
In a statement posted to his campaign website announcing his candidacy on Thursday, Sessions offered nothing but praise for Trump, despite publicly falling out of his favor.
“As everybody knows, President Trump and I have had our ups and downs,” Sessions said. “But here’s the important part: the President is doing great work for America. When President Trump took on Washington, only one senator out of a hundred had the courage to stand with him: me. I was the first to support President Trump. I was his strongest advocate. I still am. We must make America great again.”
Trump has indicated that he would publicly attack Sessions if he ran, according to a report in the New York Times, but did not immediately comment on the announcement Thursday night.
“No senator in the Senate will be more effective in advancing President Trump’s agenda than I would be,” Sessions told Tucker Carlson on Thursday in his first on-air interview since departing the Trump administration.
Republicans view the seat as a must-win following Jones’ surprise upset to the scandal-plagued Moore two years ago, despite the state’s history as a GOP stronghold. Jones, who is seeking a full six-year term, is the only Democratic senator in the South.
Moore, who faced accusations of sexual misconduct against teenage girls, has filed paperwork to run in the state’s Republican primary. Other GOP candidates include Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, Congressman Bradley Byrne, former college football coach Tommy Tuberville, businessman Stanely Adair and state Representative Arnold Mooney.
Lenze Morris, a spokeswoman for Byrne’s Senate campaign, said Byrne has the most cash on hand of all the candidates and “isn’t going anywhere,” even with a Sessions candidacy.
“He is laser-focused on becoming the next senator from Alabama and will lead the charge to secure our borders, fight for American workers and stand up to Democrats and their deep state allies attempting to nullify and sabotage the Trump Presidency,” Morris said.
“Jeff Sessions’ entrance into this race is not a surprise,” Tuberville wrote on Twitter. “He’s been out of the swamp for less than two years, and now he’s itching to go back. He’s another career politician that the voters of Alabama will reject. As AG, he failed the President at his point of greatest need.”
The deadline to enter Alabama’s March 3 Republican primary is Friday at 5 p.m.
Trump is scheduled to travel to Alabama on Saturday to attend the LSU-Alabama football game. He carried Alabama with 62% of the vote over Hillary Clinton in 2016.