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Wednesday July 6th, 2022 1:00PM

Election 2022: Trump endorsement flip scrambles Alabama race

By The Associated Press
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks has run his race for Senate embracing former President Donald Trump's election lies. He's called himself “MAGA Mo” and campaigned alongside the organizers of the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the storming of the Capitol building — the rally where he infamously told the crowd it was time to start “kicking ass.”

“I was proud to stand with Mo Brooks on that stage that day,” said Amy Kremer, chair of Women for America First. "Mo has the truth on his side.”

But Brooks' efforts weren't enough to keep him in Trump's favor. The former president rescinded his early Brooks endorsement back in March and then snubbed him a second time, endorsing his rival Katie Britt ahead of Tuesday's Republican runoff election for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Britt's former boss, retiring GOP Sen. Richard Shelby.

Alabama is one of a handful of states holding contests Tuesday at the midpoint of a primary season that has been shaped by Trump's effort to influence the GOP. In Virginia, Republicans are choosing between Trump-aligned congressional candidates to take on some of the most vulnerable Democrats in the fall. In Washington, D.C., Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser is seeking reelection amid concerns over homelessness and rising crime. And in Georgia, Democrats will settle several close races, including deciding which Democrat will challenge Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state who overcame a Trump-backed challenge last month.

Continuing Trump's losing streak in the state, trucking company owner Mike Collins beat Vernon Jones in the GOP runoff for the 10th Congressional District seat east of Atlanta. Trump had persuaded Jones to drop his long-shot bid for governor to clear the field for his chosen candidate, former Sen. David Perdue. Perdue instead lost to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who endorsed Collins.

The seat is being vacated by Republican Rep. Jody Hice, who also lost his bid for the Republican nomination for Georgia secretary of state after embracing Trump’s false election claims.

But the Alabama Senate runoff has drawn particular attention both because of the drama surrounding Trump's endorsement and the fact that the winner will likely prevail in November in a state Trump won twice by more than 25 percentage points.

Trump initially endorsed Brooks in the spring of 2021, rewarding an ardent champion of his baseless claims of a stolen election. Brooks had voted against certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential election victory and delivered a fiery speech at the rally before the U.S. Capitol insurrection, telling the crowd, “Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass."

But nearly a year later, Trump rescinded his support after the pair's relationship soured and as the conservative firebrand languished in the polls. Trump blamed his decision on comments Brooks had made months earlier, at an August rally, when he said it was time for the party to move on from litigating the 2020 presidential race — comments Trump claimed showed Brooks, one of the most conservative members of Congress, had gone “woke.”

But the move was widely seen as an effort by Trump to save face amid other losses, and Brooks alleged that it came after he informed Trump that there was no way to “rescind" the 2020 election, remove Biden from power, or hold a new special election for the presidency.

Trump's un-endorsement was widely expected to end Brooks' campaign. Instead, Brooks managed to finish second in the state’s May 24 primary, earning 29% of the vote to Britt's 45% and forcing a runoff.

Brooks tried once again to get Trump to endorse him, but Trump, who has had a mixed record in backing winning candidates, instead chose Britt, Shelby's former chief of staff.

While Brooks, 68, and Britt, 40, have similar views, their race represents a clash between two wings of the party and different generations.

Brooks, who is known for his bombastic oratory style, has described the race as a battle for the soul of Republican Party, pitting the “true conservative” wing against establishment members of the GOP. He has disparaged Britt as a RINO — the GOP pejorative meaning “Republican in name only” — and maintained he is the only one with a proven conservative record.

The six-term congressman and founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus also made his opposition to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a pillar of his campaign, embarking on a “Fire McConnell Tour” of town halls.

He has the backing of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who say he would be a needed hard-line addition to the Senate.

“This is a race about conservatives versus the establishment,” Paul said Friday in north Alabama. “We need a fighter. We’re not going to get it if you send us any old Republican. We need a fighter like Mo Brooks.”

Britt, meanwhile, has cast herself as a new generation of conservative leaders. She has the endorsement of Shelby and other establishment Republicans, but stresses her own social conservative beliefs and has tried to paint Brooks as a career politician.

“People want new blood. They want fresh blood. They want someone that will go to D.C., fight for their values and fight for the hard-working people of Alabama,” Britt told reporters Tuesday as she voted with her husband, former New England Patriot player Wesley Britt, and two children.

That argument seemed to resonate with some voters Tuesday.

“She’s young. She’s smart," said 86-year-old Carolyn Bowman. “That’s what we need in Congress."

Turnout in the race is expected to be low, with fewer than 15% of registered voters likely to cast ballots, according to Secretary of State John Merrill.

Elsewhere, in the nation’s capital, where Democratic primaries effectively decide winners, Bowser is trying to fend off challenges from a pair of City Council members as the city contends with a rash of crime, including a shooting Sunday in one of the city’s busiest nightlife destinations that left a 15-year-old dead and a police officer and at least two others wounded.

In Virginia, voters are picking Republican nominees for what is expected to be a pair of the year’s most competitive U.S. House races.

In the coastal 2nd District, state Sen. Jen Kiggans won the Republican race to take on Democrat Elaine Luria, a retired Naval commander and member of the Jan. 6 committee, in the general election. In central Virginia’s 7th District, six candidates are in a competitive race to face Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer.

At the polls Tuesday in Virginia Beach, Nanci Eves, 70, said she voted for Kiggans in part because she believes the candidate is best positioned to win in November.

“We need someone who can beat Elaine Luria,” said Eves, a retired nurse who lives in Virginia Beach and who thinks Democrats have made “a mess” of the country while in power.

And in Georgia, Democratic state Rep. Bee Nguyen defeated former state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler in the secretary of state’s race. Nguyen will face Republican Raffensperger, who rebuffed Trump's efforts to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s win in the state’s 2020 presidential election and beat back a Trump-endorsed challenger in his May 24 primary.

Republicans, meanwhile, also have high hopes of knocking off 30-year Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop in southwest Georgia’s 2nd District. The GOP is choosing between former Army officer Jeremy Hunt and real estate developer Chris West.

___

Colvin reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Va., and Ben Finley in Virginia Beach, Va., contributed to this report.

___

Follow AP for full coverage of the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ap_politics.

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