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Donald Trump takes victory lap in Mobile as hopefuls vie for Sessions’ senate seat

Donald Trump at a rally in Mobile, Alabama, in December 2016. (MADISON OGLETREE)

By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

President-elect Donald Trump returned to Mobile on Saturday, visiting the city more than a year after it hosted one of his early campaign successes.

Trump’s high-profile rally visit to the Port City was the last stop on his “USA Thank You Tour 2016.” More than a year ago, when Trump was just one of more than a dozen Republican hopefuls, he made a campaign stop at Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

On Aug. 21, 2015, more than 20,000 people filled the stadium just weeks after Trump made his first Republican primary debate appearance. Trump credited the people of Mobile, and the people of Alabama, with helping to launch what he called a successful grassroots campaign.

“I love the people of the South,” Trump said. “In fact, I said if I lost that I was going to move to Alabama or someplace in the South. We didn’t just win okay here. We won record-setting. … There is no better place to celebrate than right here.”

The president-elect visited several US cities on the tour, thanking supporters, highlighting policy promises and criticizing the “dishonest” media for their failure to predict his ascent.

Everyone discounted him as a possible front-runner before his first stop in Mobile last year, Trump said, but the people of Mobile were instrumental in shaking up the status quo.

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Trump won the needed electoral votes on Election Day in a stunning upset by running the gambit in a series of swing-state wins, from Florida to Michigan. He is expected to win the formal Electoral College vote Monday despite numerous calls for electors to abandon him in favor of another candidate.

With the future president’s victory, there comes a seismic political shakeup across the country. But that shakeup is especially sizable here in Alabama, where Gov. Robert Bentley will soon be responsible for appointing a new US senator.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, who the future president has chosen to be his attorney general, also joined Trump on stage as his “special guest.” The two men — one a southern countryman from Alabama, the other a billionaire real estate mogul from New York — developed a surprisingly close relationship that was built largely on both of their conservative immigration stances.

“He is someone who cares deeply about justice, who believes all are equal in the eyes of the law,” Trump said. “He’s a great, great man.”

Last February, in Madison, Ala., Sessions became the first US senator to endorse Trump, which lent more legitimacy to the New York billionaire’s campaign. Trump praised Sessions on his career as Alabama’s US attorney and his 20 years serving on the US Senate on the Judiciary.

“People don’t even know because we think of him as a senator, but he was a great, great legendary prosecutor,” Trump said of Sessions. “A lot of people have forgotten that.”

Sessions first donned a “Make America Great Again Hat” in Ladd-Peebles stadium last year, and on Saturday he wore Trump’s iconic hat again in his hometown. This time, the hat was white instead of the classic red, though.

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“I think the American people have spoken in so many ways,” Sessions said. “I will give my honest and best effort every single day to make you proud and the American people proud and serve everybody with equal opportunity and justice.”

Sessions is expected glide smoothly through his senate confirmation hearings, which are set for early next month. When Sessions — who also served as Alabama’s attorney general — becomes the head of the US Department of Justice, his senate seat will become vacant.

Bentley — who attended Trump’s rally but kept a low profile in the wake of his recent scandals and his refusal to support Trump throughout the election — will appoint Sessions’ temporary replacement.

Two men who have announced their intention to get Sessions’ old spot in DC were at Trump’s rally on Saturday: Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and former State Rep. Perry Hooper.

Hooper, a Trump supporter since very near the beginning of the primary season, ran the president-elect’s campaign in Alabama.

“God, Alabama and the Silent Majority won this election,” Hooper said. “Sen. Sessions is the best United States senator in America. Soon, he will be the best United States attorney general ever. Together, President Trump and Attorney General Sessions will restore law and order in our country.”

Hooper had a meeting at the State capitol with Bentley last Thursday reportedly concerning Sessions’ senate seat. He is on the short list, along with Strange, for Sessions’ seat. Others, including former Prattville Mayor Jim Byrd, are also said to be in the running.

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Strange hasn’t hidden his ambition for Sessions’ senate seat either. Both he and Hooper have publicly-filed campaign apparatuses. Strange was so fired up about the possibility of being sent to Washington as the next US senator from Alabama that he had his federal paperwork filed before Sessions was formally announced as the attorney general-designate.

Neither made public acknowledgement of their desire for the senatorship, but they both washed Trump and Sessions in compliments.

“You can’t imagine how happy I am that my great friend and colleague Jeff Sessions will be the new attorney general,” Strange said. “We’ve been playing defense for the past six years. … Now, we’re getting ready to go on offense. I can tell you with Jeff Sessions as our attorney general, the laws will be enforced. Our immigration laws will be enforced.”

Who exactly Bentley will appoint is still up for anyone’s guess. However, if Sessions is confirmed in January, a replacement will most likely be chosen within the following weeks.

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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