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With Trump endorsement, Roby tries to fend off GOP challenge

KIM CHANDLER and STEVE PEOPLES
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FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2012, file photo, Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, following a GOP strategy session. Roby is seeking Republican redemption in a runoff election that hinges on her loyalty _ or lack thereof _ to President Donald Trump. Roby is facing former Democrat Bobby Bright in Tuesday’s Republican runoff election. She’s trying not to become the third congressional incumbent to lose her seat this primary season.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

MILLBROOK, Ala. (AP) — Having once turned her back on Donald Trump, a Republican congresswoman from Alabama is fighting for her political career in the heart of Trump country in a Tuesday runoff election that tests anew the influence of the president in the 2018 midterm season.

Polls have closed across the state, where Rep. Martha Roby is now leaning heavily on the Trump White House for help in her bid to avoid becoming the third incumbent House Republican to lose her job this year. Standing in her way: former Democratic congressman Bobby Bright, who recently became a Republican and has cast himself as the real conservative in the race.

Local election officials reported "extraordinarily low" turnout in Tuesday's mid-July election, making the outcome difficult to predict.

From the outside, the race shouldn't be close. Roby is a four-term incumbent in deep-red Alabama. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have endorsed her. The vice president has recorded robocalls on her behalf saying she's a reliable vote for the Trump agenda. And her GOP opponent supported Nancy Pelosi as House speaker when he served as a Democrat in Congress.

But as is often the case in the Trump era, the conventional rules of politics do not apply.

Roby's survival depends on whether voters are sufficiently convinced she's on board with Trump's agenda after criticizing him in 2016 when he was caught bragging about sexually predatory behavior in the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape.

The remarks, she said at the time, made Trump "unacceptable" as a Republican candidate for president. She's spent much of the last two years trying to convince her constituents in Alabama's 2nd Congressional District that she is a reliable vote for the administration.

Some voters Tuesday indicated they were willing to let Roby's comments about Trump slide as they cast ballots for her.

Don Bascom, a retired mechanical engineer who lives in Prattville, said he voted for Roby. Bascom said although he generally supports the Trump administration, he also shared Roby's concerns about Trump in 2016.

"I think she has done a good job. She's an incumbent so to some degree she's proven herself. One of the criticisms I've heard of her is that she simply couldn't vote for Trump when he ran, and to be honest, I couldn't either because of the way he treats people. I think he's mellowed a little bit. I wish she would mellow a lot more," he said.

Deborah Gilliam, a registered nurse from Millbrook, said Roby's comments about Trump bothered her, but she ultimately voted for her. She said Roby hasn't done anything too terrible, and she felt uneasy with Bright's party switch.

"It was a toss-up," Gilliam said. "I'll give her one more chance. Bright, he switched from Democrat to Republican. You don't know if they're doing it for votes."

Lynn Popwell, of Marbury, voted for Bright on Tuesday, saying she believes he will "shake things up" like Trump.

"Bobby will be a champion for 'We the people,' not a puppet of Washington like Roby," she said.

Roby earned just 39 percent of the vote in the first primary contest back in June, forcing a runoff against the second-place vote-getter.

Despite her past criticism, the Trump White House has emerged as Roby's most powerful backer.

Trump himself endorsed Roby on Twitter, calling her a "reliable vote for our Make America Great Again Agenda" and bashing Bright as "a recent Nancy Pelosi voting Democrat."

Roby has argued that she's "a conservative Republican with a proven record."

"It just really comes down to one thing: My record versus my opponent's," she said before polls closed Tuesday. "My record is that of a conservative who reflects the conservative principles of the people I represent. My opponent voted for Nancy Pelosi."

Bright, who represented the district for two years as a Democrat, argues that he's more conservative than Roby, whom he calls an establishment Republican who hasn't "stayed connected" with the heavily agrarian and military district.

"We hope we can make a little history today," Bright said while voting Tuesday. "That is draining the swamp and sending some of these incumbents home and send a strong message that if you don't represent the people, they have a day and that day is Election Day."

Roby has enjoyed a 5-to-1 fundraising advantage over Bright. She's used the arsenal to hammer Bright in television ads over his Democratic background — particularly his 2009 vote for Pelosi as House speaker.

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Peoples reported from New York.

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