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Katie Britt is projected to beat Mo Brooks in Alabama GOP Senate race

GOP primary runoffs in Alabama and Georgia on Tuesday featured congressional candidates with dueling claims to the party base

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Katie Britt speaks to supporters after securing the nomination during a runoff against Rep. Mo Brooks on June 21 in Montgomery, Ala. (Butch Dill/AP)

First-time candidate Katie Britt on Tuesday won the Republican nomination to represent Alabama in the Senate, the Associated Press projected, defeating Rep. Mo Brooks after a roller-coaster primary in which former president Donald Trump abandoned a staunch ally.

Brooks, 68, once seemed well-positioned in the race, with more than a decade in Congress and an endorsement from Trump. But the former president deserted Brooks as he slipped in the polls this year and ultimately backed Britt as strategists predicted she would win. Britt, 40, seeks to replace her old boss, retiring Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R), and has pitched herself as a newcomer with conservative and Christian values.

“I promise you nobody will work harder in the United States Senate,” Britt said in front of a giant American flag after her victory, her husband standing behind her. “I will work tirelessly every day to make Alabama proud.” With 62 percent of ballots tallied, Britt led the way with about 65 percent of the vote.

The Senate race was one of several Republican primary runoffs Tuesday that featured congressional candidates with dueling claims to the party base, pitting favorites of Trump against rivals who have also embraced Trump’s brand and echoed his false claims of election fraud. In two House races in Georgia, Trump-backed candidates lost to rivals with similar messaging.

A former chief of staff of Shelby and ex-chief executive of the Business Council of Alabama, Britt will begin as a heavy favorite to win the general election in a deep-red state against Democratic nominee Will Boyd. Her upbeat ads have promised “new blood to shake things up in Washington,” while blaming the Biden administration for high inflation.

“I think that she has been able to kind of capture that zeitgeist of, you know, people who — maybe they are negative about the future of our country, but they want to be positive,” said David Mowery, an Alabama-based consultant who is not affiliated with either Senate campaign.

Trump’s influence was clear in Alabama’s GOP runoff for secretary of state, where the candidates questioned or stoked doubts about the 2020 vote. State Rep. Wes Allen was projected to prevail over state auditor Jim Zeigler, the AP said. Allen, a former probate judge, favors restricting curbside voting and wants to end Alabama’s participation in a system that shares voter registration data across 31 states to keep their rolls up to date. Zeigler was endorsed by MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell, who has pushed flatly untrue allegations of electoral wrongdoing in 2020.

Allen begins as a favorite to defeat Democrat Pamela Laffitte in the general election and oversee voting in the state. Candidates who baselessly discredit the 2020 election have already won the GOP nomination in two battleground states, Michigan and Nevada, where they are likely to face tougher general election races.

Early in the Senate race, political observers said, Britt was the underdog — a little-known figure challenging a congressman with the most coveted endorsement in the party. “If you look at that in the abstract a year ago … you say, well, okay, this person’s going to be a first-time candidate and get smashed, probably,” said Mowery, the Alabama consultant.

But Britt gained on Brooks, aided by extensive super PAC spending — with contributions from groups aligned with Shelby as well as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Like many conservative candidates across the country, Britt has campaigned on economic woes, building a border wall to stop illegal immigration and restricting abortion, among other issues.

“I think her television advertising was very appealing to the average Alabama voter,” said Glen Browder, a former Democratic congressman from Alabama and an emeritus professor of political science at Jacksonville State University. “She came across as a very likable person.”

Brooks attempted to position himself as the “Make America Great Again” candidate even after Trump’s last-minute alignment with Britt — underscoring how the former president’s endorsements have at times divided his political movement. A Trump loyalist, Brooks worked to reject President Biden’s 2020 victory.

Trump ditched Brooks this March while excoriating the congressman for once urging a crowd to set aside grievances about the 2020 election and focus on 2022 and 2024. In a May 24 primary, Britt outpaced Brooks by more than 15 percentage points, but did not win a majority of the vote, triggering a runoff between the top two finishers.

For a time, Brooks lobbied to get Trump’s endorsement back, likening him to a football coach delivering “the kick in the pants we needed.” But he lashed out last week after the former president backed Britt — a candidate Trump once criticized for her ties to the Republican establishment.

“It’s quite clear that Donald Trump has no loyalty to anyone or anything but himself,” Brooks told an AL.com columnist last week, accusing Trump of merely seeking a winner after voters rejected some of his primary picks in other states.

At an event Tuesday night, Brooks sought to cast doubt on Britt’s conservative credentials. “Congratulations to the Democrats — they now have two nominees in the general election,” he said.

In response, Britt campaign spokesman Sean Ross defended Britt’s conservative qualifications and added, “As Katie said in her remarks tonight, she wishes Congressman Brooks well and thanks him for his service.”

The former president suffered some of his highest-profile defeats in Georgia this spring, when Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) won decisive primary victories. Trump had targeted both men over their role in certifying his 2020 election loss and personally recruited former senator David Perdue to challenge Kemp.

Raffensperger will face state Rep. Bee Nguyen, who was projected by the AP to win the Democratic runoff for secretary of state on Tuesday. Nguyen would be the first Asian American elected to statewide office in Georgia if she wins this fall.

A handful of House primary runoffs in Georgia and Alabama provided new gauges of Trump’s sway on Tuesday.

In Georgia’s 10th Congressional District, Trump suffered an early setback Tuesday evening. There, Mike Collins, a trucking company owner who bills himself as a “pro-Trump” and an “America First” candidate, defeated Trump-backed Vernon Jones — who initially ran for governor and has referred to himself as the “Black Donald Trump,” the AP projected. Collins, who is endorsed by Kemp, emphasized Jones’s past as a Democrat and outpaced Jones roughly 26 percent to 22 percent in the May primary.

In the 6th District, attorney Jake Evans ran with Trump’s support but lost to physician Rich McCormick, the AP projected. In May, Evans finished well behind — with 23 percent of the vote compared with McCormick’s 43 percent. Both candidates have questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and McCormick reiterated last month that he has not conceded in his 2020 congressional race, which he lost.

In the 2nd District, lawyer Chris West was projected to defeat former U.S. Army Captain Jeremy Hunt for GOP nomination to challenge Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr. (D). Analysts say the district favors Democrats, but Republicans hope to flip many House seats this year amid low approval ratings for Biden and dismay at the economy.

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Another House runoff in northern Alabama picked a replacement for Brooks, the Senate candidate. The AP projected that Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong beat Casey Wardynski, the Army’s former assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs.

Brooks will leave his House seat next year after more than a decade representing the 5th Congressional District. A member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, he pushed to overturn the 2020 election results and — along with the president — addressed a crowd on Jan. 6, 2021, shortly before a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. He has railed against the Republican establishment, calling them “RINOS” or “Republicans in Name Only.”

“The very ones that blocked us from keeping our campaign promises are the ones that want our opponent in the United States Senate,” Brooks said at a rally in Huntsville, Ala., last Friday.

In Daphne — a small but booming town along Mobile Bay’s eastern shore — some Brooks supporters said they were not swayed by Trump’s endorsement withdrawal. But they worried that Trump’s flip-flop muddied the water for enough of their fellow Republicans to doom Brooks.

“It’s not looking good,” said Pat Murphy, 71, a retired businessman who said he voted for Trump in 2020 and Brooks on Tuesday. Murphy guessed that Trump wanted to back a winner and said he believed Britt would be a “RINO.”

Britt maintained a relationship with Trump even when Brooks had the former president’s endorsement, said former Alabama congressman Bradley Byrne, a friend who has given her campaign advice. Her team made sure Trump’s camp knew Brooks was dipping in the polls, Byrne said. Britt’s campaign has not made Britt available for an interview and did not comment on their outreach to Trump.

Byrne — who is also friends with Brooks and declined to share his vote — said Britt has “pulled off a remarkable thing” and predicted a long career ahead.

“Katie will be there for decades,” he said over the weekend, already anticipating the runoff’s result.

Margaret Hamilton, another friend of Britt’s, recalled sending the candidate a text message saying “Let’s go! Excited!” an hour before casting her vote at a polling place in Mobile.

“She is smart, passionate, and will be the next Shelby in that she’ll bring Alabama the pork,” Hamilton, 35, said.

Ryan Zickgraf in Mobile, Ala., contributed to this report.

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