(Headline USA) Republican Senate hopefuls in Alabama made last-minute pitches to primary voters Monday in the tight race for the GOP nomination for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Richard Shelby.
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., appeared at a Huntsville rally with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as he sought to overcome former President Donald Trump‘s harsh criticisms and decision to rescind his initial endorsement.
The two frontrunners—former Shelby aide Katie Britt and veteran Mike Durant, a businessman best known as the helicopter pilot held captive in the battle in Somalia made famous by the movie Black Hawk Down—also concentrated their efforts in Republican strongholds in north Alabama, attempting to sway undecided primary voters and combat a flurry of negative attack ads in the expensive and hotly contested race.
Outside groups have pumped more than $20 million into the race to either support or oppose of the frontrunners.
The fractured field increases the chances the primary will go to a June 21 runoff, which will be required unless a single candidate captures more than 50% of the vote.
So far, Britt leads in a new Alabama Senate Republican primary poll, while Durant and Brooks are essentially tied.
Trump scrambled the race this spring when he backed away from Brooks, who had been seen as an early favorite in the race.
The former president and defacto GOP leader rescinded his endorsement in March, citing Brooks’s languishing performance, and accused the congressman of going “woke” for saying it was time to move on from the 2020 presidential outcome and focus on upcoming elections.
Brooks, a six-term congressman from north Alabama, is banking on his long history with Alabama voters. “With Mo Brooks, there is no risk if you want a conservative, I’m the only conservative in the race,” he said.
Cruz said the race will decide what kind of Republican the red-leaning state will send to the U.S. Senate.
“This race is going to determine whether or not we have a proven conservative who will stand and fight and lead. And if you look at the insanity that is going on in Washington, we need warriors,” Cruz said.
Durant, running on his status as a military veteran and business owner, received a folded U.S. flag from supporter Ashlie Combs during a stop at a barbecue restaurant in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood.
Combs, a former military truck driver and interpreter, said Durant’s story inspired some of the men she served with to join the military.
“I’m the the non-career politician. I’m the one who has combat veteran experience, business owner experience. I’m in it the for the right reason. I’m in it to serve,” Durant said. “I’m not in it because I’ve aspired to be this my whole life. In fact, I don’t like politics. But we need people like me in Washington.”
Durant has faced an onslaught of negative ads that he said distorted his views on gun rights and other matters. He said he is asking voters to see through millions of dollars spent in “lying attacks ads.”
“I’m going to ask the people of Alabama to see through that and come out and vote for me,” Durant said.
Before leading the Business Council of Alabama, Britt served as chief of staff to Shelby, one the Senate’s most senior members. Britt said while her experience would allow her to “hit the ground running” she would bring a fresh perspective to Washington.
“There is no doubt that Alabama is ready for new blood,” Britt told supporters gathered in the town of Cullman.
In a speech ranging from border security to energy policy, Britt said, “We need the America First agenda back in action.” Both Britt and Durant have asked for Trump’s endorsement, but he has so far stayed out of the race.
“I believe in this nation, and I believe in this state. And what I want you to know is I am not only going to go fight for our Christian conservative values. I am going to fight for the people of Alabama,” Britt said.
Lillie Boddie of Florence, small-business owner Karla M. Dupriest of Mobile and Jake Schafer also are on the GOP ballot. The Rev. Will Boyd, former Brighton mayor Brandaun Dean and retired Army veteran Lanny Jackson are vying for the Democratic nomination.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.