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Sessions vs Bedford to Succeed Alabama’s Heflin

June 26, 1996

A decade ago, Sen. Howell Heflin cast the deciding vote rejecting Jeff Sessions’ nomination to a federal judgeship. Now Alabama’s attorney general has a chance to succeed the retiring incumbent.

To do so, Sessions, who won the Republican runoff on Tuesday, will have to beat state Sen. Roger Bedford, who won the Democratic runoff.

The campaign began as soon as the primary votes were counted.

Sessions immediately tried to paint Bedford as a captive of special interests more in tune with national Democrats than Alabama voters. Bedford hammered back by criticizing Sessions for not debating his runoff opponent.

``A conservative Democrat can win this seat and hold it,″ Bedford said. ``He’s not going to be able to duck and hide. ... We’re going to talk about the issues.″

In Utah, voters in both parties picked unlikely candidates _ a six-time loser and a liberal Democrat _ to contend for the seat of Rep. Enid Greene, the once-rising GOP star whose financial and marital troubles made her first term her last.

``I won one!″ crowed explosives magnate Merrill Cook, the GOP primary winner who has spent millions of his own money in six failed bids for public office. He lost to Greene as an Independent two years ago.

The Democratic primary winner was Ross Anderson, a liberal lawyer making his first run for public office in one of the most conservative states.

``The day of the right-wing Republican revolution is over,″ declared Anderson, who supports abortion and legalizing gay marriages, and avidly opposes the death penalty.

In 1986, Heflin _ one of 14 Senators calling it quits this year _ cast the deciding vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee rejecting Sessions’ nomination to a federal judgeship.

Blacks and Democrats who opposed the nomination accused Sessions, who is white, of trying to intimidate black voters by prosecuting three civil rights workers for vote fraud the year before.

Sessions, then U.S. Attorney in Mobile, vehemently denied the accusations. The three civil rights workers were acquitted.

Sessions, 49, now has a chance to break 122 years of tradition in Alabama by completing a sweep of both Senate seats and the governor’s office.

As recently as 1994, Alabama Democrats held all three of the top offices _ and the GOP has never held more than one at a time this century. But Republican Fob James beat the Democratic incumbent to win the governor’s office in 1994, and a day later Sen. Richard Shelby switched to the GOP, leaving Heflin as the lone Democrat among the three.

Retaining the state’s first open Senate seat since 1978 for the Democrats would cap a remarkable comeback by Bedford. The 39-year-old, three-term state lawmaker lost the 1990 race for attorney general and dropped out of the 1994 contest for lieutenant governor because of a lack of money.

Nationally, Democrats see the fall election as a shot at regaining control of the Senate, while Republicans view November as a chance to add to their 53-47 majority.

Sessions and Bedford came in first in their parties’ primaries earlier this month, but both failed to capture a majority in multicandidate fields, forcing runoffs with the second-place finishers.

On Tuesday, Sessions got 60 percent of the vote to beat telephone company owner Sid McDonald. Bedford beat U.S. Rep. Glen Browder with 63 percent of the vote.

In Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, Anderson handily beat state House minority whip Kelly Atkinson, 56 percent to 44 percent. Cook eked out a narrow victory over former FBI agent Todd Neilson, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Earlier this month, Greene was divorced from Joe Waldholtz. On the same day, he pleaded guilty in federal court to four felonies, including bank fraud and falsifying her campaign spending reports in 1994.

Greene has denied knowledge of her ex-husband’s actions and has not been charged.

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