Tue, Jun 21, 2022 11:26 PM
By JILL COLVIN and KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Katie Britt won the Republican nomination for Senate in Alabama Tuesday, defeating six-term Rep. Mo Brooks in a primary runoff after former President Donald Trump took the unusual step of rescinding his initial Brooks endorsement.
The loss ends a turbulent campaign that pit Brooks, a conservative firebrand who has spent more than a decade in Congress, against someone who has never held elected office. Brooks ran under the banner “MAGA Mo" and fully embraced Trump’s election lies. But that wasn’t enough for the former president, who initially backed Brooks in the race to replace Britt's former boss, retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, but then pulled his support as Brooks languished in the polls.
The race was among a handful of contests held Tuesday at the midpoint of a primary season that has been shaped by Trump’s effort to influence the GOP.
By the time Trump backed her earlier this month, Britt was already considered the favorite in the race. She emerged as the top vote-getter in the state's May 24 primary, but just missed the threshold that triggered a runoff. Still, Tuesday's result gives Trump a win at a time when his influence over the GOP has come under scrutiny.
The former president has had a mixed record of success in backing candidates this election season, helping lift Senate contenders in Pennsylvania and Ohio while floundering elsewhere, particularly in Georgia. Voters in the onetime Republican stronghold rejected his efforts to unseat the state’s GOP governor and secretary of state, both of whom rebuffed his extraordinary pressure to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. And his trouble in the crucial swing state deepened Tuesday as two of his endorsed congressional candidates faltered in their GOP run-off elections.
In the 6th District in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, emergency room physician Rich McCormick beat Trump-backed lawyer Jake Evans. And in the 10th District east of Atlanta, trucking company owner Mike Collins bested Democrat-turned-Republican Vernon Jones.
Trump persuaded Jones to run for the seat and drop his long-shot bid for governor to clear the field for his chosen candidate, former Sen. David Perdue. Perdue lost to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who endorsed Collins. The seat is being vacated by Republican Rep. Jody Hice, who also lost his bid to unseat Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, another top Trump target.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser won the Democratic nomination to serve another term, fending off a pair of challengers amid concerns over rising crime and homelessness.
But the Alabama Senate runoff had drawn particular attention because of the drama surrounding Trump's endorsement and because the winner, who will face Democrat Will Boyd in November, is considered the overwhelmingly favorite in the Republican state.
Britt, 40, cast herself as part of a new generation of conservative leaders while disparaging Brooks, 68, as a career politician. If victorious in November, Britt will be the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama and one of its youngest members. The state’s previous female senators had been appointed.
“Alabama has spoken. We want new blood. We want fresh blood,” she said at her victory party. “We want someone who will fight for Christian conservative values, who will fight for the freedoms and liberties this nation was founded on and will fight for the American dream for the next generation and the next generation.”
That argument seemed to resonate with some voters Tuesday.
“She’s young. She’s smart,” said 86-year-old Carolyn Bowman. “That’s what we need in Congress.”
Brooks, who is known for his bombastic oratory style, described the race as a battle for the soul of Republican Party, pitting the “true conservative” wing against establishment members of the GOP. He disparaged Britt, 40, as a RINO — the GOP pejorative meaning “Republican in name only” — and maintained he was the only one with a proven conservative record.
The founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Brooks has a history of bucking party leadership and made his opposition to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a pillar of his campaign, embarking on a “Fire McConnell Tour” of town halls.
In his concession speech Tuesday night, Brooks told supporters he respected the race’s outcome. But in a sign of the contentious race, he accused voters of having been seduced by false advertising and congratulated high-dollar donors and “special interest groups” for funding Britt’s campaign.
“We are sending to Washington, D.C., the exact opposite of what we need in the United States Senate. But the voters have spoken. They might not have spoken wisely,” he groused.
Brooks was initially considered the frontrunner when he announced his Senate candidacy, and Trump quickly offered his support, rewarding an ally who had been an ardent supporter of Trump’s false claims of election fraud. Brooks voted against certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential election victory and delivered a fiery speech at the “Stop the Steal” rally that proceeded the U.S. Capitol insurrection, telling the crowd, “Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”
But their relationship soured as Brooks struggled to gain traction. Trump eventually pulled his support in March, accusing Brooks — one of the most conservative members in Congress — of going “woke” for saying at a rally that it was time to move on from litigating the 2020 presidential election.
Brooks clawed his way into a second-place finish in the May primary and tried once again to get Trump to back him. But Trump instead threw his support to Britt 11 days before the runoff she was widely expected to win.
Elsewhere, in Virginia, Republicans chose a pair of Trump-aligned congressional candidates to take on two of the most vulnerable Democrats in the fall.
In the coastal 2nd District, state Sen. Jen Kiggans won the Republican race to try to unseat Democrat Elaine Luria, a retired Naval commander and member of the Jan. 6 committee, in the general election. And in central Virginia’s 7th District, Yesli Vega emerged from a competitive six-candidate field to face Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger.
At the polls Tuesday in Virginia Beach, Nanci Eves, 70, said she voted for Kiggans in part because she believes the candidate is best positioned to win in November.
“We need someone who can beat Elaine Luria,” said Eves, a retired nurse who lives in Virginia Beach and who thinks Democrats have made “a mess” of the country while in power.
Colvin reported from Washington. Ben Finley in Virginia Beach, Va., contributed to this report.