At a gathering of Alabama Republicans last yr, Katie Britt and her husband strategically positioned themselves at the tip of a receiving line to shake hands with former President Donald J. Trump.
Ms. Britt, a lawyer and former chief of staff for Senator Richard Shelby, had recently announced her campaign to fill the seat being vacated by her former boss, who’s retiring. Mr. Trump had already endorsed her opponent, Representative Mo Brooks — however the couple hoped to sow some doubt in Mr. Trump’s mind, based on 4 people acquainted with the encounter.
Because the couple greeted Mr. Trump, Ms. Britt’s husband, Wesley Britt — a burly retired N.F.L. lineman — mentioned to the previous president that he had once played for the Recent England Patriots. “The one time you’ve met me, I believe I used to be wrapped in a towel within the Patriots locker room,” Mr. Britt was said to have told Mr. Trump, who found it hilarious and replied that Robert K. Kraft, the team’s billionaire owner, “likes me very much.”
From then on, Ms. Britt positioned herself as a formidable competitor with savvy political skills who persistently tried to persuade Mr. Trump that she deserved his endorsement as an alternative.
In March, Mr. Trump gave Ms. Britt half of what she wanted, withdrawing his endorsement of Mr. Brooks — at that time far behind within the polls — because, he said, the far-right congressman had gone “woke.” Then, this month, with Ms. Britt clearly on course to prevail, the previous president backed her, seemingly in an try to pad his endorsement record.
Ten months after her temporary exchange with Mr. Trump last August, Ms. Britt claimed victory within the Republican primary runoff for Alabama’s open Senate seat on Tuesday, capping a hard-fought campaign for her party’s nomination against Mr. Brooks. In a state with a deep-seated conservative bent, she is all but assured of winning in the final election in November.
Ms. Britt can be one step closer to creating history as the primary woman in Alabama to be elected to the Senate. Her Democratic opponent is a pastor, Will Boyd, who has made unsuccessful runs for Senate, House and lieutenant governor.
Shortly after the polls closed Tuesday, Mr. Shelby, who has known Ms. Britt because the days when she was an intern in his office, said he was overjoyed for her.
“She is an excellent person — she has got the brains, the drive and the compassion,” he said.
Ms. Britt, 40, is seen as a part of a younger generation of pro-Trump Republicans, and her husband’s banter with Mr. Trump was viewed by those acquainted with the encounter as an astute move that proved essential to her nomination.
Ms. Britt entered the first with little name recognition and long odds against Mr. Brooks, who boasted greater than a decade of experience within the House and gained Mr. Trump’s backing after he riled up the group at the previous president’s rally before the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
But Mr. Trump rescinded his support for Mr. Brooks in March as Mr. Brooks struggled to achieve traction under an avalanche of attack ads and criticism of his decision to induce an audience at a Trump rally to go away the 2020 election behind. “Katie Britt, then again, is a fearless America First Warrior,” Mr. Trump said in a press release this month as he endorsed Ms. Britt.
That move didn’t completely wipe out Mr. Brooks, who still managed to clinch a second-place finish in Alabama’s May 24 primary, garnering 29 percent of the vote. Ms. Britt pulled in 45 percent, wanting the bulk that may have avoided a runoff between the 2 top vote-getters.
Ms. Britt fashioned herself as an “Alabama First” candidate, playing off Mr. Trump’s “America First” presidential campaign slogan, and centered her run on her Christian faith, hard-line border enforcement policies and ties to the business community.
As an aide for Mr. Shelby, considered one of the Senate’s most senior members, she worked on a few of his signature issues, including a sweeping Republican package of tax cuts in 2017, confirmation of conservative judges and a push for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
She most recently served as the top of the Business Council of Alabama, a strong lobbying group, and led a “Keep Alabama Open” campaign in November 2020 against coronavirus pandemic restrictions that required nonessential businesses to shut or limit services. She also opened the council’s resources, typically reserved to paying members, to all small businesses amid the health crisis.
On policy, Ms. Britt and Mr. Brooks had ideological differences: He represented a more aggressive brand 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 hard-right talking points which have turn into commonplace messaging within the Republican Party.
“Once I take a look at what’s happening in Washington, I don’t recognize our country,” Ms. Britt said in a video introducing herself to voters. “The leftists are attacking our religious freedoms and advancing a socialist agenda. In Joe Biden’s America, people can collect more cash staying at home than they will earn on the job.”
The campaigns and supporters of Ms. Britt, Mr. Brooks and a 3rd top competitor within the race, Mike Durant, a former Army pilot, spent thousands and thousands of dollars on negative ads.
Mr. Brooks and his supporters tried to color Ms. Britt as a lobbyist and a RINO — a well-liked insult utilized by Trump supporters for politicians they imagine are Republicans in name only.
She shot back with attacks portraying Mr. Brooks as a profession politician. It also helped that Mr. Brooks had a poor showing at Mr. Trump’s Alabama rally last August, just after Ms. Britt began her quiet campaign to sway the previous president to her cause. What began as an enthusiastic response for Mr. Brooks that night turned to boos when he urged those within the audience to place the 2020 presidential election behind them and deal with 2022 and 2024.
Mr. Trump called him back onstage for a second appearance, calling him “a fearless warrior to your sacred right to vote.”
Later, when the previous president took back his endorsement of Mr. Brooks, he said the congressman had made a “horrible mistake” along with his comments at that fateful rally.