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How Katie Britt Used Political Savvy to Trounce Mo Brooks in Alabama

At a Republican meeting in Alabama last year, Katie Britt and her husband strategically positioned themselves at the end of a reception line to shake hands with former President Donald J. Trump.

Ms Britt, a lawyer and former chief of staff to Senator Richard Shelby, recently announced her campaign to fill the seat vacant by her former boss, who is retiring. Mr Trump had already backed her opponent, Representative Mo Brooks, but the pair hoped to sow some doubt in Mr Trump’s mind, according to four people familiar with the meeting.

As the couple greeted Mr. Trump, Mrs. Britt’s husband, Wesley Britt — a burly retired NFL lineman — told the former president that he had once played for the New England Patriots. “I think the only time you met me was wrapped in a towel in the Patriots’ locker room,” Britt is said to have told Trump, who thought it was hilarious and replied that Robert K. Kraft, the billionaire owner of the team, “loves me very much.”

From then on, Ms. Britt positioned herself as a formidable competitor with shrewd political skills who constantly tried to convince Mr Trump that she deserved his endorsement instead.

In March, Mr Trump gave Ms Britt half of what she wanted, withdrawing his endorsement from Mr Brooks — far behind in the polls at the time — because, he said, the far-right congressman had “woke up.” Then, this month, with Mrs. Britt clearly on her way to victory, the former president supported herseemingly in an effort to fill up his clearance record.

Ten months after her brief exchange with Mr. Trump last August, Ms. Britt claimed victory in the Republican primary for the Alabama open Senate seat on Tuesday, capping a hard-fought campaign for her party’s nomination against Mr. Brooks. In a state with an entrenched conservative leaning, she is almost certain to win the November general election.

Ms. Britt is also one step closer to making history as the first woman in Alabama to be elected to the Senate. Her Democratic opponent is a pastor, Will Boyd, who has made failed attempts for the Senate, the House and the Lieutenant Governor.

Shortly after polls closed on Tuesday, Mr. Shelby, who has known Ms Britt since her days as an intern at his office, said he was overjoyed for her.

“She’s an excellent person — she’s got the brains, the drive and the compassion,” he said.

Ms. Britt, 40, is seen as part of a younger generation of pro-Trump Republicans, and her husband’s banter with Mr. Trump was seen by those familiar with the meeting as a smart move that proved essential to her nomination.

Ms. Britt ran in the low-profile, high-opportunity primaries against Mr. Brooks, who boasted more than a decade of experience in the House and gained Mr. Trump’s backing after he drove the crowd at the former president’s rally before the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

But Mr Trump withdrew his support for Mr Brooks in March as Mr Brooks struggled to gain traction under an avalanche of attack ads and criticized his decision to spur an audience at a Trump rally in the 2020 election. to leave behind. “Katie Britt, on the other hand, is a fearless America First Warrior,” Mr Trump said in a statement this month when he supported Ms. Britt.

That move didn’t completely wipe out Mr. Brooks, who still managed to take second place in the Alabama May 24 primary with 29 percent of the vote. Mrs Britt took in 45 percent, less than the majority that would have prevented a second round between the two best voters.

Ms. Britt posed as an “Alabama First” candidate, playing off Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign slogan “America First,” and focusing her run on her Christian faith, hard-line border enforcement policies, and ties to business.

As an assistant to Mr. Shelby, one of the most senior members of the Senate, she worked on some of his signature issues, including a sweeping Republican package of tax cuts in 2017, confirmation from conservative judges and a push for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

She most recently headed the Business Council of Alabama, a powerful lobbying group, and led a “Keep Alabama Open” campaign in November 2020 against the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, forcing non-essential businesses to close or restrict their services. . She also opened up council resources, typically reserved for paying members, to all small businesses during the health crisis.

On the policy side, Ms Britt and Mr Brooks had ideological differences: he represented a more aggressive form of arch-conservatism as a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, while Ms Britt, like Mr Shelby, was seen as more focused on economic development . But in oratorical style, she echoed the far-right talking points that have become commonplace in the Republican Party.

“When I look at what’s happening in Washington, I don’t recognize our country,” Ms Britt said in a video introducing herself to voters. “The left are attacking our religious freedoms and promoting a socialist agenda. In Joe Biden’s America, people can raise more money at home than they can earn at work.”

The campaigns and supporters of Ms. Britt, Mr. Brooks and a top third competitor in the race, Mike Durant, a former Army pilot, spent millions of dollars on negative advertising.

Mr. Brooks and his supporters sought to portray Ms. Britt as a lobbyist and a RINO — a favorite insult used by Trump supporters at politicians they believe are Republicans in name only.

She fired back with attacks portraying Mr Brooks as a career politician. It also helped that Mr. Brooks had a poor performance at Mr. Trump’s Alabama meeting last August, just after Ms. Britt began her silent campaign to win the former president over to her cause. What started as an enthusiastic response for Mr Brooks that evening turned around when he urged those in attendance to leave the 2020 presidential election behind and focus on 2022 and 2024.

Mr Trump called him back on stage for a second appearance, calling him “a fearless fighter for your sacred right to vote.”

Later, when the former president withdrew his endorsement from Mr. Brooks, he said the congressman had made a “terrible mistake” with his comments during that fateful meeting.

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