Alabama GOP rep will challenge Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in 2020

Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Washington (CNN)GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama announced Wednesday that he will seek to challenge Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in the 2020 election, setting up an attempt for the GOP to take back the Senate seat in the heavily Republican state.

Byrne had mulled a Senate bid publicly well ahead of the announcement and was expected by many to mount a campaign to unseat Jones. He made his announcement Wednesday evening in Alabama, more than a year ahead of the state's GOP primary.
A former prosecutor, Jones was elected to fill the Senate seat left open when President Donald Trump appointed Jeff Sessions to be attorney general.
The ensuing GOP primary to replace Sessions in 2017 saw former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore emerge victorious before accusations of sexual abuse derailed his already controversial bid. Moore denied all the allegations.
    Byrne said ahead of the general election that he would vote for Moore.
    Jones went on to stun many by winning the seat. In the Senate, he has been among the more moderate members of his party, although Alabama itself is still considered overwhelmingly Republican -- and the seat a top target for the GOP.
    Sessions was previously a longtime GOP senator from the state, and the prospect of his own entry into the race has been an open question as the Republican field takes shape for what may be one of the Democratic Party's most vulnerable seats next year.
      In a live stream of Byrne's announcement, the congressman was asked about Sessions and he called the former Trump-ally-turned-regular-target a "friend."
      "I've sought his advice," Byrne said, declining to speak further about their conversations.