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Brooks, without Trump’s backing, hopes to advance to a runoff in Alabama Senate race

By Gabby Orr

Deborah Cain was an early supporter of Mo Brooks in his bid to become Alabama’s next Republican senator, pleased with the job he has done as a six-term congressman and the fiery speech he delivered at the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, 2021.

So when former President Donald Trump abandoned his endorsement of Brooks earlier this spring, claiming he had gone “woke” on the 2020 election, Cain said she was “offended.”

“I felt like Donald Trump stabbed Mo in the back. I know it was a political move, but it was a cowardly move. Mo Brooks stood up for him, stood up and fought, and he took a lot of heat for that,” Cain told CNN at a meet-and-greet for several statewide candidates just outside of Birmingham on Sunday.

Ultimately, Trump’s decision to withdraw his support from Brooks in March may have actually saved his floundering campaign. The embarrassing episode left Brooks so badly injured in the eyes of his opponents — Army veteran Mike Durant and Katie Britt, a former aide to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby — that they trained their sights on each other, enabling the GOP congressman to campaign under the radar and free from scrutiny in the final weeks of the race.

Ahead of Tuesday’s primary, Brooks appears to be in contention to finish in the top two, leaving the door open for the Trump-scorned congressman to advance to a June runoff contest and raise new questions about the former President’s influence if he does.

“Just call me a modern-day Lazarus,” Brooks told CNN at a campaign stop on Sunday, joking that his late-stage comeback “makes me kind of wonder if Donald Trump was planning it from the beginning.”

Another Brooks supporter from Jefferson County, Luke C., said he voted for Trump and thinks highly of the 45th President, but wasn’t persuaded to reject Brooks because the former President did. He felt that Brooks, as a congressman, had consistently voted in alignment with his Christian conservative values and he therefore decided early on to support his Senate campaign.

“Donald Trump made a huge mistake. Too much bad advice from the folks around him,” said Luke, who asked that his last name not be used for this story.

While Brooks’ unexpected resurgence at the eleventh hour has been notable, it remains far from certain that he will enter a runoff contest against Durant or Britt. In the final weeks of the race, a super PAC linked to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has contributed $2 million to a group attacking Brooks on the airwaves here — hoping to stifle his momentum and quash the ultra conservative congressman, who has vowed not to support the Kentucky Republican for majority leader should Republicans retake the Senate this November.

Birmingham resident Hunter Payne has seen the ads against both Brooks and Durant and was still deciding between the two candidates when he stopped by Demetri’s BBQ early Monday for a breakfast event with Durant.

“I’m looking for a mature candidate who wants to serve and serve honestly,” he told CNN, noting that he was not considering Britt because he didn’t feel that she had adequately campaigned for his vote.

“These two candidates, in indirect and direct ways, approached me. I don’t know much about Mo Brooks but I believe he cares about this country and, if he wins, he will make a good senator. And based on what I know of Mike Durant, I believe he would make a good senator,” Payne said.

Durant, who has been accused by Britt allies of being soft on gun rights and more moderate than he lets on, said he is feeling “really good” about his chances of making the runoff but would much prefer to face Brooks in a two-way contest than Britt.

“Based on the sheer volume of false information that has been put out by the Britt campaign, I would prefer not to have to face another month of that because it is hard on my family,” he said in a brief interview on Monday.

Barring a major upset on Tuesday, two candidates are nearly guaranteed to head to a June 21 runoff contest that could once again test Trump’s endorsement strength if he decides to back a new candidate. Upon un-endorsing Brooks in March, the former President had said he would throw his weight behind an alternative but such a move now appears unlikely until Trump knows which candidates will be competing in a runoff.

But even then, a second entry into the race by Trump may not matter.

“I’m supportive of Donald Trump and his conservative views and the way he wants to protect America. I’m not supportive of him when he says ‘me, me, me.’ A person and their values are more important than their endorsements,” said Dennis O’Brien, 64, of Helena, who is supporting Durant in the primary.

Brooks bounces back

The rise of Brooks in the closing days of the Senate primary underscores a developing trend in Republican politics as GOP voters, leading conservative figures and influential outside groups buck the former President’s high-profile endorsements in favor of other candidates.

Despite losing Trump’s endorsement two months before the May 24 primary, Brooks continued his campaign with the support of the Club for Growth and prominent conservative backers like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who vouched for the congressman’s conservative bona fides at a campaign rally on Monday.

“If you look at these candidates, it’s not even close which candidate has the strongest conservative record in the Alabama primary,” Cruz told a crowded ballroom in Huntsville.

While leaving the afternoon campaign stop on Monday, Brooks was stopped by a woman who had been in the ballroom just minutes prior and declined to be named for this story.

“Mr. Brooks, we don’t care what Trump said. We got a brain,” the woman shouted to Brooks, who smiled.

After watching the race unfold from afar since withdrawing his endorsement, Trump waded into the primary for the first time in several weeks over the weekend when he publicly questioned why the Republican congressman was still sending out campaign mailers touting his since-revoked Trump endorsement.

“Can’t do that Mo!” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform on Sunday above an article by the Alabama Reporter about the mailers.

Although Brooks initially won Trump’s affection for becoming the first House Republican who vowed to block congressional certification of the 2020 election on January 6, 2021, the former President became increasingly upset with the six-term congressman last fall amid several campaign stumbles. Trump’s frustration was precipitated, in part, by an August campaign rally where Brooks was booed for encouraging the crowd to look beyond the 2020 election. Then, in mid-March, Brooks told a local Alabama news outlet that he was “baffled” by Trump’s view that a “legal” mechanism existed that could invalidate President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory and return him to the Oval Office.

“Whoever is giving him that advice is misleading President Trump,” Brooks said, leading Trump to yank his endorsement just days later. Brooks is among several Republican lawmakers from whom the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection has requested testimony.

In the end, some Brooks supporters said Trump’s decision made them more inclined to support the congressman out of a desire to prove to the former President that he made a mistake.

“True Mo Brooks fans rallied behind him and a lot of people who pay attention and listen, they made up their own mind,” Cain said.

An expensive primary

While the Club for Growth’s political arm has spent about $6 million boosting Brooks in Alabama, his two opponents both entered the field with significantly more resources at their disposal. Durant has poured $6.8 million of his own money into his campaign, and Britt’s off-the-charts fundraising — she raised $1.3 million in the first 3 months of 2022, while Durant raised nearly $292,000 and Brooks raised more than $489,000 — left her with a significant cash advantage at the end of March, according to publicly available campaign finance data.

If the race advances to a runoff, it will likely get more expensive — particularly if it pits Brooks, backed by the Club for Growth, against Britt, who is aligned with McConnell.

At the end of March, Brooks had roughly $1.5 million in his campaign account, which he waited until the final weeks of the primary to spend on the airwaves.

“The campaign is moving very strongly in the right direction right when it should,” he said Monday.

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