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Top One Magazine

Trump weighs a big bet in Alabama Senate race

Mo Brooks created a stir among conservative commentators this week after sparring with a Fox News host who told viewers that there was no evidence of widespread election fraud in 2020.

“That’s wrong,” the congressman said emphatically, talking over Sandra Smith as she maintained that the election was not stolen. “I don’t know why you people in the media keep saying that, but that is absolutely false.”

Among those who saw the clip was Donald Trump.

The former president, who endorsed Brooks in the Alabama Senate GOP primary before ditching him as his campaign floundered, was pleased by Brooks’ performance during the exchange, according to two people close with the former president. Other top MAGA figures also heaped praise on Brooks, including Steve Bannon, who posted on Gettr Sunday that “Mo Brooks FINALLY GOT THE MEMO!!!!!!”

Brooks’ return to MAGA’s good graces has placed Trump in an awkward position. With the June 21 Republican Senate runoff fast approaching, Alabama presents an excellent opportunity for Trump to determine the outcome with a late endorsement — and thus burnish his win-loss record after a series of high-profile defeats.

But his choice isn’t an obvious one. Front-runner Katie Britt is the preferred candidate of Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Trump nemesis. Brooks is a McConnell adversary.

“I don’t see any upside to him getting in, honestly,” said Jon Gray, a Republican strategist in the state, noting that Trump could have made a difference in the race had he decided to campaign for a new candidate months ago. “I do think, though, there is this recollection of Mo having been with the president in the past, and his policies.”

Britt, the former chief of staff to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, spoke with Trump by phone last weekend after finishing first in the May 24 primary, 15 percentage points ahead of Brooks, but short of the 50 percent threshold necessary to avoid a runoff. During the conversation, Trump said he wanted to see independent polling in the runoff, according to a person aware of the call.

Britt’s internal modeling shows her up 15 points, and the campaign has seen independent polling that has her even higher, said a person close to the campaign.

Trump “hasn’t made a decision yet” about intervening in the runoff, said the person close to the president, adding that it’s unlikely Trump sits out. If Trump were to turn around and re-endorse Brooks, he could make the argument that pulling the endorsement two months ago “taught him a lesson,” the person said, and that “Mo got straight and has been very strong since” on his rhetoric about the 2020 election.

“I certainly think that Mo Brooks is more ideologically aligned with Trump, and I certainly think that were he to come back and reendorse Mo Brooks, that it would help,” said Jessica Taylor, a former candidate in the Senate race who dropped out earlier this year to endorse Mike Durant, who came in third-place last week. Taylor is now supporting Brooks in the runoff.

Brooks, who was first elected to Congress in 2010 after spending a combined 25 years as a state legislator and member of the Madison County Commission, led efforts in Congress to oppose the certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory — including speaking at Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, rally. But Trump blamed Brooks’ decline in support throughout the winter on comments the congressman made last year encouraging Republicans to move on from 2020 and focus their efforts on winning elections in 2022 and 2024.

Britt, however, has not sought to champion Trump’s stolen-election narrative. She has carefully answered questions about the issue by suggesting there were problems with election integrity and that a “nationwide forensic audit” should be conducted, but stopped short of declaring that Biden’s victory was fraudulent.

The former president of the Business Council of Alabama, Britt drew sharp criticism from Trump last summer, but has since worked to earn his respect. Trump last July called Britt the “assistant” of “the RINO Senator from Alabama,” referring to Shelby, and said she was “not what our Country needs.” After Trump announced in March that he was rescinding his support for Brooks, however, he said he would be issuing a new endorsement in the race, referring to either Britt or Durant.

But the primary came and went without a new endorsement.

For Trump, Alabama is an important state to get right in the wake of a series of losses in three gubernatorial primaries. It’s a conservative bastion that he easily won twice, but where his endorsement record is mixed — and in need of vindication.

In the state’s 2017 Republican Senate primary special election, Trump’s endorsed candidate, appointed Sen. Luther Strange, fell short. Trump then threw his support behind GOP nominee Roy Moore in the general election, only for Moore to lose to Democrat Doug Jones amid a series of sexual misconduct allegations.

Some party activists in Alabama still place blame on McConnell for costing the state a safe Republican Senate seat in 2017, when his allied super PAC spent heavily to attack Brooks — who was also running in the special election — in an effort to boost Strange. Instead, the plan backfired as support for Moore increased, and he became the party’s nominee.

That unique anti-McConnell sentiment in Alabama — coupled with Trump’s general disdain for the Republican Senate leader — is something Brooks is trying to seize upon, framing the campaign as “MAGA versus Mitch.” For months, he has been on a statewide “Fire McConnell tour,” and vowed not to support the Kentucky senator as leader, if elected.

“There is not an appreciation for Mitch McConnell down here, and there will be some remembrance of that,” Gray said of whether Brooks’ strategy will prove effective with runoff voters.

McConnell’s aligned super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, gave $2 million this spring to a pro-Britt group, though a spokesperson told POLITICO the donation was “purely an anti-Brooks effort.”

Britt has declined to pledge to oppose McConnell as Senate leader, though she has made general statements about wanting to see a new generation of leaders in the Republican Party.

She has her campaign’s well-organized voter outreach to thank for her success last month, which will prove crucial in generating turnout for the runoff, Gray said. But if Britt supporters think her victory over Brooks is in the bag and don’t show up to vote, “she’s going to be in a lot of trouble,” he said.

Britt’s campaign is ramping up its ground game leading up to June 21, including more than doubling their field staff from eight to 18, said Britt spokesman Sean Ross. Ahead of the May primary, her campaign knocked on 18,000 doors around the state, made 160,000 live phone calls and connected with 96,000 voters through robocalls.

“Katie has been traveling the state relentlessly,” Ross said. “She is the only candidate to go to all the counties, and is doubling down on that for the runoff.”

Brooks is at a significant fundraising disadvantage compared with Britt, who had more than four times Brooks’ cash on hand as of mid-May. He is backed by the anti-tax Club for Growth, however, which has so far spent $5.5 million on ads in the Senate race — including $1 million reserved through the runoff. On Thursday, the super PAC cut more than a half-million dollars from its runoff ad reservations.

A spokesperson for the Club’s super PAC declined to comment on the group’s strategy in Alabama in the coming weeks.

Perry Hooper Jr., a close ally of Trump in Alabama, said he is not convinced Trump will take any action at all on the runoff, but hopes Trump will back Britt.

“Trump loves Alabama, and Alabama loves him, but he wants to make the right decision,” Hooper said. “In my humble opinion, the right decision would be Katie Britt.

“I have a feeling he’s not going to endorse anybody.”

Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.

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