Alabama Primary Runoff: Martha Roby Tries to Fend Off Challenger Bobby Bright

Alabama Primary Runoff: Martha Roby Tries to Fend Off Challenger Bobby Bright

- in House of Representatives

Ms. Roby, who has held her seat in Congress since 2011, came up short during a June primary. She faces Mr. Bright, a former mayor of Montgomery (and a former Democrat) in a runoff on Tuesday.

Representative Martha Roby of Alabama has faced skepticism from some conservatives after she retracted her support for President Trump during the 2016 election.CreditMickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser, via Associated Press

Representative Martha Roby of Alabama is battling for political survival in a Republican runoff primary on Tuesday. She faces an aggressive challenger and lingering suspicion among conservative voters about her support for President Trump.

Polls will close at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday night, and we will have live results shortly after. Here’s our guide to the race:

Why was Martha Roby in trouble in the first place?

The short answer is: “Access Hollywood.” Ms. Roby withdrew her endorsement of Mr. Trump in 2016 after the release of a recording that showed him boasting about physically accosting women. His behavior, Ms. Roby said, made him “unacceptable.”

But a few weeks later, Ms. Roby’s solidly conservative district — which includes Montgomery, the state capital, and stretches across Alabama’s rural southeast — voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump. His surprise victory over Hillary Clinton put Ms. Roby suddenly at odds with the incoming president and leader of her party.

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So, will she survive?

It’s not clear, but the odds appear to be on her side. One big reason for that is the nature of her primary opponent: Bobby Bright, a former mayor of Montgomery who previously served in Congress as a Democrat. While Ms. Roby’s apostasy in the presidential race has been a problem for her, Mr. Bright has his own baggage, including his past support for Representative Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House.

Establishment Republicans have also mounted a determined rescue mission to help Ms. Roby. Congressional leaders helped her raise far more money than Mr. Bright, and the national Chamber of Commerce has run ads supporting her campaign. She finished last month with about $731,000 in the bank, versus about $173,000 for Mr. Bright.

Most importantly, at the urging of Representative Paul D. Ryan, the speaker of the House, and Representative Kevin McCarthy, his deputy, Mr. Trump endorsed her for re-election, in effect absolving her for her rejection of his campaign in 2016.

In June’s primary, Ms. Roby captured 39 percent of the vote to Mr. Bright’s 28 percent, short of the majority she needed to have kept the seat outright. The winner of Tuesday’s runoff will face Tabitha Isner, the Democratic challenger, in November.

Read more about Republicans and the midterm elections

Why did Trump forgive her?

“Forgive” might be putting it strongly, but the president gave Ms. Roby an important kind of political absolution. In a series of tweets — after the first round of voting but well before the runoff — Mr. Trump attacked Mr. Bright as a Pelosi-supporting former Democrat and urged Republicans to re-elect Ms. Roby.

The race is an example of Mr. Trump playing nice with congressional leaders, who view Ms. Roby as a cooperative lawmaker. It’s also a classic case of a onetime Trump critic bowing to political pressure: Ms. Roby has strenuously wooed Mr. Trump since his inauguration, voting predictably for his priorities and recasting herself as a fierce supporter of the White House.

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Bobby Bright, a former mayor of Montgomery who previously served in Congress as a Democrat, is challenging Ms. Roby in the runoff.CreditKim Chandler/Associated Press

And what if Bright wins?

It would be a sign that Mr. Trump’s endorsement does not solve all political problems in a Republican primary. It would also underscore how malleable partisan labels continue to be for a certain generation in the Deep South: Mr. Bright may be a former Democrat, but so are many conservative voters in Alabama, and the combination of his populist message and longtime local prominence have made him appealing to some on the right.

Alexander Burns is a national political correspondent, covering elections and political power across the country, including Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. Before coming to The Times in 2015, he covered the 2012 presidential election for Politico. @alexburnsNYT

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