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In Alabama US House race, Trump loyalty takes center stage

By KIM CHANDLERMay 31, 2018
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U.S. Representative Martha Roby pauses to talk with the media while campaigning at a fish fry in Andalusia, Ala., on Wednesday May 30, 2018. (Mickey Welsh /The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
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U.S. Representative Martha Roby pauses to talk with the media while campaigning at a fish fry in Andalusia, Ala., on Wednesday May 30, 2018. (Mickey Welsh /The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

ANDALUSIA, Ala. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Martha Roby could pay a political price for her 2016 criticism of Donald Trump after recordings of him making lewd comments were released during his campaign for president.

Roby said then that Trump’s behavior “makes him unacceptable as a candidate for president” and suggested he step aside to let another Republican lead the presidential ticket.

Two years later, her comments have become an issue as she seeks to win the GOP primary and a fifth term representing Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District, a conservative swath where loyalty to Trump has become central issue of the midterm primary.

“She turned on Trump,” said Ted Roberts, a 69-year-old retired banker from New Brocton, explaining why he won’t vote for Roby.

Roby faces primary challenges from Bobby Bright, who represented the district for two years as a Democrat, state Rep. Barry Moore and Rich Hobson a longtime ally of failed U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Roby said she wants to emphasize her record on issues important to the district, including military and veterans issues. Roby said she has a “good working relationship” with the Trump administration.

“What I have done is run on my record. I’m proud of my record. I’m proud that we’ve been able to do the things and accomplish the things that I believe the people sent me to Washington to do,” Roby said.

Roby on the campaign trail and in election materials, said she works well with the Trump administration, noting her support for Trump-backed policies such as the 2017 tax cut bill. A television ad touts her support for a border wall.

All of Roby’s primary opponents are raising Roby’s comments in the election. Bright, the former Democratic congressman for the district who also served as mayor of Montgomery, is running a television ad with video footage of Roby saying Trump should step aside.

“People are ready for a change, and we’re giving it to them,” Bright said during a campaign stop at a drug store as he wore a red hat with the slogan to make the district “Bright Again.”

Bright dismissed concerns that a former Democrat will be rejected by GOP primary voters. He said his values and voting record are “more Alabama.”

Alabama’s 2nd congressional district stretches from Montgomery through rural southeast Alabama. The district is heavily agrarian. A boll weevil monument in the city of Enterprise pays tribute the agricultural pest that prompted the region’s shift from cotton to peanut farming.

The district’s strong military presence is often visible in the skies as planes from Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery and helicopters from the Army’s aviation program at Fort Rucker buzz overhead.

“This is definitely Trump country,” said George McCleary, a retired Air Force colonel.

“My wife thinks she’s doing a great job. ... I don’t think she’s nearly aggressive enough,” McCleary said of Roby. McCleary said Roby’s Trump comments weren’t a concern to him, but he was more worried about issues such as border security.

Both Barry Moore and Hobson said Roby’s comments helped inspire them to jump into the race.

Hobson said Roby opened the door to challenges with her “disparaging remarks against Donald Trump.”

“The comments were just the icing on the cake to a voting record that wasn’t that great anyway,” Moore said.

Willie Furr, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, said he is voting for Roby, saying she has worked to improve health care access for veterans. He added that many women, not just Roby, took offense to Trump’s comments.

“I think what matters at the end of the day is her track record, what she’s has delivered on,” Furr said.

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