For the third time in five years, Alabama Republicans will have an opportunity to vote in a contentious U.S. Senate primary on Tuesday.
Two years ago, in the throes of a COVID-induced shutdown, football coach-turned-politician Tommy Tuberville defeated former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions. Two years earlier, Sessions had an unceremonious departure from the Trump administration as the U.S. Attorney General. Tuberville went on to easily defeat incumbent Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL).
In 2017, Gov. Kay Ivey called a special election to fill the seat vacated by Sessions, who left to serve in the Trump administration. That U.S. Senate contest featured former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore defeating then-U.S. Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), appointed by disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley earlier in the year, in a GOP primary runoff, only to be defeated in a significant upset by Democrat Doug Jones.
Before that, competitive Senate races were few and far between.
You would have to go back to 1996 when then-Republican Alabama Attorney General Jeff Sessions defeated then-Democrat State Sen. Roger Bedford by seven points to fill the open seat left behind by the retiring Democrat Sen. Howell Heflin. It was 10 years earlier in the 1986 midterm election Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), then a Democrat congressman, defeated an incumbent Sen. Jeremiah Denton (R-AL) for the Senate seat up for grabs this midterm election cycle.
A true horse race
From the early stages of this U.S. Senate Republican primary contest, beginning in 2021, the three frontrunners, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), U.S. Army veteran Mike Durant and former Business Council of Alabama president and CEO Katie Britt, have each had at least one turn as leader.
Immediately out of the gate, Brooks looked unbeatable. Early polls showed Brooks with a commanding lead among likely Republican voters, attributed to his high name identification and former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. It proved not to be sustainable for the six-term North Alabama congressman.
Durant’s entrance into the race, known for his 1993 Black Hawk heroics as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot, and Britt’s nearly flawless execution of a textbook Alabama 67-county statewide campaign, including pro-Britt PAC attack ads against Brooks, led to Brooks’ lead evaporating and some polls showing him in a distant third place by mid-March.
The crushing blow to Brooks’ effort came shortly after when Trump made the unprecedented move of rescinding his endorsement of Brooks for claims of going “woke.”
That solidified Durant’s position as the leader. But it would not be for long. A well-funded effort aligned with Britt set its sights on Durant and unleashed a flurry of attack ads questioning his support of the Second Amendment and views on immigration.
By early May, polling showed Brooks and Durant duking it out for second place. Another round of polling last week showed an even more dire situation for Durant, mired in a tailspin in third place, and Brooks in striking distance, holding a statistical tie with Britt.
Most anticipate that neither Brooks, Britt nor Durant will exceed the 50% threshold required to avoid a runoff and win the GOP nomination. That would set up a 30-day sprint to a June 21 runoff election between the top two finishers.
‘Friends and neighbors’ politics
As often has been the case with Alabama’s statewide elections, regional loyalties, referred to as “friends and neighbors” politics by long-time Alabama political columnist Steve Flowers, could factor into this primary election.
Both Durant and Brooks hail from Huntsville, a northern Alabama city on the rise located near the banks of the Tennessee River. Traditionally, Brooks has dominated his home turf in his primary and general election congressional bids. In 2020, Brooks won his party’s fifth congressional district nomination by 50 points, despite facing an opponent who had the endorsement of sitting Alabama House of Representatives Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R) and the Alabama Farmers Federation.
Brooks also fared well in the area dubbed the Golden Triangle, made up of Madison, Morgan and Limestone Counties, in his two prior statewide bids, for lieutenant governor in 2006 and U.S. Senate in 2017.
It remains to be seen if Durant, whose highly successful Pinnacle Solutions is headquartered in Huntsville, can put a dent in Brooks’ record in North Alabama’s Tennessee Valley.
Britt is originally from Enterprise, located on the opposite end of Alabama just north of the Florida border, and looks strong in the state’s Wiregrass region, which includes the southeastern corner of the state. She could also see a boost in her husband Wesley’s hometown of Cullman, located halfway between Birmingham and Huntsville.
As with most of Alabama’s statewide elections over the years, the candidate with the best outcome in the Birmingham designated market area (DMA) tends to win, and this primary contest is no different. Given none of the three candidates has a geographic advantage in the Birmingham market, it could be where the battle for the nomination is ultimately decided.
Durant punching back
Even though the poll numbers have been lackluster as of late, Durant’s effort is not going quietly. The campaign has made political hay by questioning Britt’s record as the 2003-2004 Student Government Association (SGA) president at the University of Alabama and her failure to veto an SGA resolution that called for the campus health center to offer the morning-after pill.
Durant’s campaign has also questioned the social media activity of Britt and her husband, former New England Patriots and Alabama Crimson Tide offensive tackle Wesley Britt.
Campaign spokesman Scott Stone blasted Britt for her establishment support and “pro-abortion” support, referring to a donation to a pro-Britt PAC by Florida real estate investor Hugh Culverhouse, an outspoken critic of Alabama’s 2019 abortion ban.
“Despite the Washington Establishment and liberal pro-abortion donors spending over $10,000,000 on false attacks to smear Mike Durant and to elect Katie Britt, the conservative grassroots are seeing through the lies and we are confident that Mike Durant will continue to surge as Election Day nears,” Stone said in a statement given to Breitbart on Sunday.
The Mo Brooks surge
Brooks appears to have been the beneficiary of Durant’s struggles. However, some are also crediting Brooks’ new campaign approach. Previously, the campaign sought to highlight Brooks’ association with former President Donald Trump. Since Trump pulled the endorsement, Brooks has retooled his message, continuing to be critical of Britt and Durant but with a renewed focus on the conservative movement’s message.
Brooks campaign co-chair Stan McDonald indicated to Breitbart News on Sunday that Brooks would proceed with that approach.
“Mo Brooks is surging and going to be Alabama’s next U.S. Senator,” McDonald said in a statement. “Katie Britt has been exposed as a lobbyist supported by Mitch McConnell, who has flip-flopped on being pro-life, has advocated for raising taxes, and is an open borders Chamber of Commerce shill. Meanwhile, using McConnell’s money, Britt’s team has run millions in vicious attacks on Mike Durant. But Mo Brooks has just kept making his case to Alabama that he’s the most conservative guy in the race, and voters seem to have responded.”
Can slow and steady prevail?
There have been no wild fluctuations for Britt. Since formally announcing her candidacy in June 2021, Britt’s methodical approach has given her the lead, according to most polling.
Britt, the former chief of staff for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and former head of the Business Council of Alabama, has also been the beneficiary of a well-connected candidacy. Britt touts endorsements from Alabama’s business community and officeholders throughout the entire state.
One way she has capitalized is by having rallied support and obtained resources to take a two-prong approach. As Britt has barnstormed the state for the last year, raising her name ID and wooing voters, Britt-friendly PACs have played the role of attack dog, which has given her a strategic advantage over her two opponents.
Britt rarely acknowledges her opponents on the campaign trail. She has instead opted to attack President Joe Biden and state her support of former President Donald Trump’s policy initiatives.
That continues to be the case as the primary day approaches.
“It is time for the next generation of conservatives to step up and fight to save the country we know and love for our children and our children’s children,” Britt said in a statement given to Breitbart News on Sunday. “The momentum and energy we are feeling on the ground every day is incredible – it is clear that the people of Alabama want fresh blood to shake things up in Washington. In the Senate, I’ll always fight to defend our Christian conservative values, advance the America First agenda, and preserve the American Dream. The future of Alabama is on the ballot, and I’ll continue to work hard to earn every Alabamian’s vote.”
“What we’re facing under Joe Biden’s disastrous time in office is the definition of America Last,” she continued. “President Trump’s America First agenda led to a booming economy, peace abroad, and safety here at home, and we have to return to those successful policies.”
“In the Senate, I will fight for America First policies that put Alabama workers and families first,” Britt added. “This includes securing our border and finishing building President Trump’s wall, achieving American energy independence and dominance, fixing the baby formula crisis, onshoring good-paying jobs, shoring up our domestic manufacturing and supply chains, holding China accountable, ending the reckless spending that’s pouring fuel on Biden’s inflationary fire, and putting money back in everyday Americans’ pockets. On day one as Alabama’s Senator, I will work to implement my plan to drive up American wage growth, benefiting families and communities in every corner of our state.”
The runoff and beyond
The race for the Republican nomination is expected to go into overtime, but that will be an entirely different contest.
The top two finishers will have 30 days to make their case to Alabama Republican voters, which is unchartered given that the state only recently changed the time between a primary contest and a runoff.
If either Brooks or Durant faces off against Britt, will they have any resources remaining for the final sprint?
What will former President Donald Trump do? Even though Trump-endorsed candidates are not a lock, with both Roy Moore and Luther Strange getting the Trump endorsement, an endorsement is still considered a net positive for the campaign.
Who would the odd person out endorse in a runoff?
The winner of the June 21 runoff is likely the next U.S. Senator for Alabama, given Democrat struggles in Alabama as of late and the likelihood of a Republican wave election in November.
Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor