Rep. Who Called Trump ‘Unacceptable’ Forced Into GOP Primary Runoff

UNITED STATES - JUNE 28: Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., attends a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center, June 28, 2016, to announce the Select Committee on Benghazi report on the 2012 attacks in Libya that killed four Americans.  (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Group

Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) refused to back President Trump in 2016. Now his voters have exacted their revenge.

Roby was forced into a primary runoff election after failing to win 50 percent of the vote Tuesday night in her heavily Republican congressional district, and she appears to be in for a tough fight ahead of the July 17 runoff election.

Roby led former Rep. Bobby Bright with 39 percent to 29 percent, with three other GOP primary candidates, including Roy Moore’s former campaign manager, splitting the rest of the vote. The Associated Press called the race with 65 percent of precincts reporting at 10:36 p.m. EST.

Roby, a mainline conservative who first won her seat in 2010, had done little to buck her party leadership for most of her career. But she strongly condemned President Trump’s remarks bragging about sexual assault that surfaced during the 2016 campaign, calling them “unacceptable” and demanding he step aside to let running-mate Mike Pence take over at the top of the ticket, and refused to back down when pressure mounted from local GOP activists.

“I cannot look my children in the eye and justify a vote for a man who promotes and boasts about sexually assaulting women,” she said at the time.

That led to a last-minute, right-wing write-in challenge in 2016 that peeled away a good chunk of her support and held her to under 50 percent in her victory that year — a warning sign of things to come for the lawmaker.

Roby has never apologized for those remarks, but she has worked assiduously to make peace with Trump and win back her district’s primary voters. She worked closely with the White House on expanding the child tax credit and to repeal Obamacare, has popped up on numerous occasions at White House ceremonies, and her first campaign ad talked up building Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico.

Roby clearly has a problem with Trump supporters in the district. But she may have lucked out with her opponent. Bright is a former Democrat who voted for President Obama and backed Nancy Pelosi for House speaker in his one term in Congress. The former Montgomery mayor is well-liked in his home town and is wealthy enough to self-fund, but his previous support for Democrats toxic in the Alabama district may prove to be even more problematic than her earlier criticism of Trump.

The runoff sets up a rematch — Roby defeated Bright in a less heavily Republican district in 2010 to secure her seat in Congress.

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