Two months after former president Donald Trump disowned Rep. Mo Brooks’s Senate bid, envelopes from his campaign showed up in Alabama mailboxes last week touting Trump’s “complete and total endorsement” — an error Brooks’s camp chalked up to an innocent delay.
But Brooks is still trying to make a clear case to primary voters that he’s the most pro-Trump candidate in the three-way race — even if the former president dramatically left his campaign for dead and feuds with him in public.
With the vote on Tuesday, there are signs that Brooks’s gambit is working. Local observers and recent surveys suggest the race is tightening, and in place of the Trump endorsement, Brooks has picked up support from other Republicans who are delicately working to stake competing claims to Trump’s Make America Great Again movement without antagonizing Trump himself.
The big-spending national conservative group the Club for Growth, which has increasingly taken positions contrary to Trump’s endorsements this year, pumped more than $4 million into Brooks’s race, according to Federal Election Commission reports. On Monday, the campaign is holding events with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a likely challenger to Trump for the GOP nomination in 2024, and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
“When it comes to Donald Trump, every Republican candidate on earth professes their allegiance to President Trump,” Cruz said. “The reason I’m here is because I’ve seen this man stand and fight. Talk is cheap.”
Brooks’s resilience is surprising for a candidate whose Senate hopes appeared crushed when Trump in March renounced the congressman, who was a top backer of Trump’s false claims of a stolen 2020 election. Polling at the time showed Brooks languishing in third place, in danger of not making a runoff and lagging in fundraising against two flush opponents seeking to replace retiring Sen. Richard C. Shelby.
But being counted out may have cleared a path for a Brooks’s comeback.
His rivals — Katie Britt, a former top Shelby aide, and military veteran Mike Durant — went dark against Brooks while their campaigns and allied PACs spent more than $4.4 million savaging each other, according to federal campaign finance disclosures. Until a few days ago, there were no TV ads highlighting Trump’s rejection of Brooks. Brooks’s campaign saved up for a final push, airing more than $600,000 worth of ads in the last month of the race, according to data from the media tracking firm AdImpact.
“Katie Britt and Mike Durant have been very viciously attacking each other recently,” Brooks said in a brief interview outside the Capitol in late April. “That has hurt their standing and helped my standing.”
The campaign’s internal research showed that barely half of the electorate was ever aware that Trump had endorsed Brooks, spokesman Will Hampson said, so it’s likely many voters didn’t find out he lost it, either. The sting was also softened by the fact that the former president never endorsed anyone else in the race, despite indicating at the time that he would. A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Whoever emerges as the nominee in the Republican-dominated state has vowed to bring Trump’s brand of politics to the Senate. All three candidates are running under the banner of the former president and his MAGA movement, and they’re roughly splitting the vote among the former president’s supporters, according to Emerson College Polling Director Spencer Kimball.
For Brooks, making his case for being the candidate most aligned with Trump has centered on his prominent role in trying to overturn the 2020 election. Brooks was the first House Republican to announce he would object to the electoral college results on Jan. 6, 2021, and he spoke at the rally that preceded the insurrection, asking the people in the crowd if they were willing to sacrifice “their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes and sometimes their lives … to do what it takes to fight for America.”
His conduct that day is of interest to the House Jan. 6 committee. But his campaign has touted clips of Brooks’s speech in TV ads.
“There’s nobody in the country that was more supportive of Donald Trump or the premise that 2020 was questionable and messed up than Mo Brooks,” said Dale Jackson, a talk radio host in northern Alabama who supports Brooks’s campaign. Trump’s revocation of his endorsement, Jackson said, “clearly did not have the desired impact.”
In fact, his campaign originally stumbled when Brooks strayed from that message. While introducing Trump at a rally in Alabama last August, Brooks urged people “who are despondent about the voter fraud and election theft in 2020” to “put that behind you.” The crowd responded with boos and shouts of “No!”
Trump cited the incident in pulling his endorsement. In the aftermath, Brooks avoided criticizing Trump himself, instead blaming his advisers for misleading him. Brooks took direct aim at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), vowing to oppose him as Senate leader and launching a website and campaign stops under “Fire McConnell” branding.
That framing got a boost when the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with McConnell, transferred $2 million in April to a super PAC supporting Britt, according to disclosures to the Federal Election Commission. A Senate Leadership Fund spokesman pointed to an interview with the group’s president, Steven Law, saying the money was specifically for attacking Brooks and suggesting his record of criticizing Trump in 2016 would hurt him with Republican voters.
The clash echoes the 2017 Alabama Senate primary, when the Senate Leadership Fund spent millions bashing Brooks. McConnell’s and Trump’s preferred candidate, Luther Strange, ended up losing the runoff to Roy Moore, who went on to lose the general election.
“The last time McConnell got heavily involved in a primary, it didn’t go the way he planned,” said Phil Williams, a former state senator and Republican Party official who now hosts a radio show in northern Alabama.
The circular firing squad of negative ads offers a colorful snapshot of what’s energizing Republican primary voters, at least in deep-red Alabama.
Britt has been attacked as insufficiently antiabortion because, as a college student government president, she did not veto a nonbinding resolution supporting the availability of emergency contraception. Britt said she is “100% pro-life.”
Durant, an Army pilot in the famous “Black Hawk Down” operation who self-financed his campaign with a fortune made in defense contracting, was attacked for straying from Second Amendment rights by suggesting in a 2011 Army War College speech that to “disarm the population … would be a pretty good step toward law and order.” Durant has said that he supports gun rights and that his remarks were being mischaracterized.
And Brooks has been attacked for being soft on ISIS terrorists because of votes for requiring congressional authorization for military operations.
“It’s crazy, knowing the candidates, to believe Katie Britt is pro-abortion, and Mike Durant, a war hero, wants to take away guns, and Mo Brooks loves terrorists — it’s off the rails, really,” said Jon Jones, a Republican consultant in the state who advised Brooks’s campaign last year. “This is all about negative ads. Voters don’t like negative ads, but they work.”
Paul Kane contributed to this report.