Katie Britt used her ties to Alabama and her political smarts to beat Mo Brooks.
Katie Britt and her husband put themselves at the end of a line of people waiting to meet former President Donald J. Trump at a meeting of Alabama Republicans last year.
Ms. Britt is a lawyer and used to be Senator Richard Shelby’s chief of staff. She recently announced that she would run for the seat that her former boss, who is retiring, will leave open. Mr. Trump had already backed her opponent, Representative Mo Brooks, but according to four people who were there, the couple wanted to plant some doubts in Mr. Trump’s mind.
As the couple greeted Mr. Trump, Ms. Britt’s husband, Wesley Britt, a big retired NFL lineman, told the former president that he had played for the New England Patriots. Mr. Britt is said to have told Mr. Trump, “The only time you’ve met me, I think I was wrapped in a towel in the Patriots locker room.” Mr. Trump found this funny and said that the team’s billionaire owner, Robert K. Kraft, “likes me very much.”
From then on, Ms. Britt positioned herself as a strong rival with smart political skills who kept trying to persuade Mr. Trump that she was the one who should get his support instead.
In March, Mr. Trump gave Ms. Britt half of what she asked for. He pulled his support for Mr. Brooks, who was far behind in the polls at the time, because, he said, the far-right congressman had “woken up.” Then, this month, when it was clear that Ms. Britt would win, the former president backed her, which seemed to be an attempt to add to his list of endorsements.
Ten months after her short conversation with Mr. Trump last August, Ms. Britt won the Republican primary runoff for Alabama’s open Senate seat on Tuesday, putting an end to her hard-fought campaign against Mr. Brooks for her party’s nomination. In a state where conservatism is deeply rooted, she is almost certain to win the general election in November.
Ms. Britt is also one step closer to becoming the first woman ever elected to the Senate from Alabama. Will Boyd, a pastor and Democrat who has run for Senate, House, and lieutenant governor but lost all three times, is running against her.
Shortly after the polls closed on Tuesday, Mr. Shelby told Ms. Britt how happy he was for her. He has known her since she worked as an intern in his office.
“She’s a great person—smart, she’s motivated, and kind,” he said.
Ms. Britt, who is 40 years old, is seen as part of a younger generation of Republicans who support Trump. Her husband’s banter with Mr. Trump was seen by those who were there as a smart move that helped her get the nomination.
Ms. Britt went into the primary with little name recognition and long odds against Mr. Brooks, who had more than a decade of experience in the House and Mr. Trump’s support after he riled up the crowd at the former president’s rally before the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
But Mr. Trump stopped backing Mr. Brooks in March, when Mr. Brooks was having trouble getting attention because of a flood of attack ads and criticism for telling a crowd at a Trump rally to forget about the 2020 election. “On the other hand, Katie Britt is a fearless America First Warrior,” Mr. Trump said this month in a statement supporting Ms. Britt.
That move didn’t completely hurt Mr. Brooks, though. He still got 29% of the vote in Alabama’s primary on May 24, which put him in second place. Ms. Britt got 45 percent of the vote, which wasn’t enough to avoid a runoff between the two candidates with the most votes.
Ms. Britt ran as a candidate for “Alabama First,” a play on Mr. Trump’s “America First” campaign slogan. She based her campaign on her Christian faith, strict policies for border enforcement, and connections to the business community.
As an aide to Mr. Shelby, one of the Senate’s most senior members, she worked on some of his most important issues, like a big package of Republican tax cuts in 2017 and a push for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
She was most recently the head of a powerful lobbying group called the Business Council of Alabama. In November 2020, she led a campaign called “Keep Alabama Open” against coronavirus pandemic restrictions that forced non-essential businesses to close or cut back on services. She also made the resources of the council, which are usually only available to members who pay for them, available to all small businesses during the health crisis.
On policy, Ms. Britt and Mr. Brooks had different ideas. He was a founding member of the Freedom Caucus and stood for a more aggressive form of arch conservatism, while Ms. Britt, like Mr. Shelby, was seen as more interested in economic development. But in a way that sounded like she was giving a speech, she repeated the hard-right talking points that have become standard in the Republican Party.
In a video to voters, Ms. Britt said, “When I look at what’s going on in Washington, I don’t recognize our country.” “Leftists are trying to take away our freedom of religion and push a socialist agenda. In Joe Biden’s America, people can make more money staying at home than they can working.
Millions of dollars were spent on negative ads by the campaigns of Ms. Britt, Mr. Brooks, and Mike Durant, an ex-Army pilot who was also a top candidate in the race.
Mr. Brooks and his supporters tried to make Ms. Britt look like a lobbyist and a RINO, which is an insult that Trump supporters like to use when they think a politician is only a Republican in name.
She fought back by calling Mr. Brooks a career politician, which was an attack. It also helped that Mr. Brooks did poorly at Mr. Trump’s Alabama rally last August, right after Ms. Britt started her quiet campaign to get the former president to support her cause. What started out as cheers for Mr. Brooks that night turned into boos when he told the crowd to forget about the 2020 presidential election and focus on 2022 and 2024 instead.
Mr. Trump asked him to come back onstage for a second time and called him “a fearless warrior for your sacred right to vote.”
Later, when the former president took back his support for Mr. Brooks, he said that the congressman’s comments at that fateful rally were a “horrible mistake.”