By John Whitesides
(Reuters) – U.S. Representative Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican who spurned Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race, has decisively won a runoff election against a former Democrat-turned-Trump supporter.
With 65 of 67 counties reporting, the four-term incumbent in the House of Representatives got 68 percent of the vote compared with 32 percent for challenger Bobby Bright in the race to become the Republican candidate for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District, according to the state’s own unofficial results.
Roby ran ahead of Bright in last month’s five-way primary contest but failed to reach the 50 percent majority needed to clinch an outright victory, setting the stage for Tuesday’s runoff.
She is now expected to run as a heavy favorite against Democratic nominee Tabitha Isner in the Nov. 6 general election, when Democrats are hoping to pick up the 23 seats they need to claim a House majority.
Roby faced a voter backlash in the conservative district after calling Trump “unacceptable” and vowing not to vote for him in the November 2016 campaign when a 2005 recording surfaced in which the former reality TV star boasted crudely about groping women and making unwanted sexual advances.
Roby won re-election that year by a narrower margin than in previous years, and has since become a reliable supporter of Trump’s policies in Congress.
During this year’s nomination battle, Roby has reminded south Alabama voters that Bright, who held the same congressional seat as a Democrat before switching parties, did something they might consider even more unacceptable: He voted for liberal Democrat Nancy Pelosi to be House speaker.
That helped Roby win an endorsement last month from Trump, who wrote on Twitter that she was a “consistent and reliable” vote for his agenda, while Bright was “a recent Nancy Pelosi voting Democrat.”
Vice President Mike Pence also backed the conservative Roby.
Bright has said his vote for Pelosi was a routine procedural tally before she became a symbol of Democratic Party liberalism.
“Roby has suffered a lot of backlash from Trump loyalists, but Bright is not the natural candidate to take advantage of that,” said David Hughes, a professor at Auburn University at Montgomery. “He has a lot of baggage as a former Democrat.”
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Bright wrote that voters were “ready for change.”
Roby raised more than five times as much campaign money as Bright by the end of last month, according to financial reports compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
(Reporting by John Whitesides in Washington and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Peter Cooney and Michael Perry)