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As Trump’s Alabama Senate pick struggles, Shelby to pour in millions

Mo Brooks is reeling and Alabama’s Senate GOP primary is descending into chaos. So Sen. Richard Shelby is making his move.

The retiring Alabama senator is preparing to pour as much as $6 million into the race by transferring his campaign coffers into a super PAC supporting Katie Britt, a former Shelby aide who is running for the Senate seat. She’s locked in a three-way battle with a stumbling Brooks (R-Ala.) and surging Army veteran Mike Durant, and Shelby confirmed in an interview he’ll do what it takes to ensure that Britt emerges from the May primary with a place in a runoff.

“I’m going to give it all away sooner or later. I’m going to help her, transfer it to a super PAC,” said Shelby, who has nearly $10 million in his campaign account and more than $6 million in a separate leadership PAC. He added that Britt is “doing well right now. Mo Brooks is dropping, you see that.”

There are several PACs supporting Britt, and Shelby hasn’t decided which one. But the 87-year-old made clear he’s going forward with his long-rumored financial plunge for his former chief of staff: “She’ll need help.” His infusion of money could reshape the race, which now has multiple candidates and super PACs firing at each other.

Brooks’ flagging campaign and his opponents’ rise have shocked Senate Republicans, many of whom thought the pugnacious Donald Trump acolyte was the odds-on favorite as soon as he secured the former president’s endorsement in April. But Shelby’s backing of Britt after 43 years in Congress — many spent showering Alabama with federal money — along with Durant’s surprisingly strong campaign, has put Brooks on shaky footing.

Unless one of the candidates clears 50 percent in the May primary, there will be a runoff. And eliminating Brooks and leaving the race to Durant and Britt would amount to a “no-lose” proposition for Republicans, said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who serves on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership team.

“People know what [Brooks] was like in the House. And I think there’s a general desire to have people that will be constructive and that we can work with. So that’s my view, and that’s probably the view of most of the conference,” Cornyn said.

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Brooks’ campaign is pressing forward, banking on the congressman’s past support for overturning Trump’s 2020 election loss. Less than 24 hours after Trump’s comments skewering Brooks were made public in a Washington Examiner interview, Brooks’ campaign released a new ad Thursday showing him speaking at Trump’s Jan. 6 rally and attacking McConnell.

At nearly the same time, Brooks also went on his home-state station WERC to downplay any lingering sentiment among Trump’s base that something could still be done to overturn the election results. Brooks explained that “that shot was Jan. 6,” 2021, when 147 Republicans objected to certifying Trump’s defeat and rioters stormed the Capitol.

He advised Republicans to focus on elections in 2022 and 2024 rather than re-litigating 2020; a similar comment got him booed at an August Trump rally in Cullman, Ala. Brooks has lagged Britt in fundraising and failed to build a commanding lead in the race.

The former president publicly aired his grievances against Brooks this week as a kick in the pants for the Senate hopeful — or “a gut check,” as a person close to Trump called it. This person said that Trump is not rushing to rescind his endorsement for Brooks, which would be a slippery slope for other Trump endorsees with lagging performances.

“I don’t think Mo’s in the strongest position, but I don’t think he’s as weak as some would make it seem,” the person said, calling some recent polling in the state “bullshit.”

Nor is Trump likely to issue a double endorsement in the Alabama race, despite some recent reports that he is considering doing so, the person said. But Britt’s backers are encouraging Trump to keep an open mind.

“He doesn’t seem happy with his first endorsement. I would encourage President Trump to be able to look at Katie and make a wise choice,” said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who supports Britt.

Brooks’ latest ad refers to McConnell as a “debt junkie” and links him to Britt, whom he calls a “RINO.” He concludes the ad: “That’s why President Trump endorses me, and why Mitch McConnell opposes us.”

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McConnell declined to comment, though several members of his leadership team support Britt and it’s no secret that Brooks would make the GOP leader’s job more difficult. In addition to Fischer, Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa) are among the Republicans supporting Britt.

Brooks and Trump speak regularly, including this week — and Trump did not express concern about Brooks’ performance during that phone call, according to his campaign. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who supports Brooks, said the “polling seems to be all over the map in that race.”

“I like Mo. I think he’s a good man. He’s a strong conservative. That’s why I endorsed him,” Cruz said. He has not decided whether he will venture to Alabama to campaign for Brooks.

Trump is set to appear at a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser for Brooks scheduled for early May. While Britt has met with Trump, Durant has yet to do so.

In a statement for this story, Brooks’ campaign spokesperson said Britt has misled Trump, said Durant is “funded by Never Trumpers” and aligned Brooks with Trump by falsely claiming the “2020 election was fraught with voter fraud on a massive scale.”

“There is no other choice for President Trump: not Mitch McConnell’s candidate, and not a Never Trumper,” said Brooks spokesperson Will Hampson.

A spokesperson for Britt denied that she has misled Trump, in addition to providing a statement accusing Brooks of being a “flip-flopping career politician” and Durant a “Trojan Horse candidate recruited by Never Trumpers.” A spokesperson for Durant declined to comment.

The three candidates, meanwhile, are engaged in an ad war primarily bankrolled by super PACs. The conservative Club for Growth has spent $4 million on TV ads to help Brooks, whose campaign is only going live with its first TV spot next week. Half of the Club’s ads for Brooks have already aired, while the remainder have been purchased to run through the primary, set for May 24.

Club for Growth Action, the right-leaning group’s political arm, declined to comment on whether the super PAC intends to spend more on Brooks.

Two pro-Britt super PACs have combined for nearly $5 million into advertisements, according to data compiled by AdImpact, while Britt’s campaign has taken out $1.3 million in ads. Durant, who loaned his campaign more than $4 million, has spent $2.7 million on ads — in addition to a super PAC buying $2.2 million worth of television time on his behalf.

Meanwhile, polls show a dead heat in the primary. A survey conducted last week by Trump pollster McLaughlin & Associates — commissioned by a pro-Britt group — was the exception, putting Brooks nearly 15 points behind Durant and Britt.

Alabama’s been the site of much recent political intrigue. Former Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) triggered a special election when he became attorney general in 2017, and Trump endorsed appointee Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) to succeed him. Strange then lost a primary to Roy Moore, whose past sexual forays with teenage girls led to a loss to Democrat Doug Jones. Sessions then tried to run against Jones, but lost the primary to Tommy Tuberville, now a GOP senator.

Asked to assess the latest chapter of Alabama’s disorderly Senate Republican primaries, Tuberville put it succinctly: “It’s getting a little messy, isn’t it?”

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