An Alabama Barnburner

By Jim Ellis

Alabama US Senate candidate Mike Durant

Feb. 16, 2022 — A trio of polls released in the past three weeks now suggest that any one of the top Alabama US Senate candidates can win the Republican nomination.

With Democrats basically conceding the general election because none of their four filed candidates can be considered a legitimate threat to score an upset win in November, the GOP nomination contest will decide who will succeed retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R).

The Alabama Republican Senate primary is now turning into a serious three-way affair, as former “Black Hawk Down” pilot Mike Durant apparently has become a legitimate contender. According to most recent three surveys, what originally looked to be a potential outright win for US Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) on May 24 now appears surely headed for a June 21 secondary runoff election.

FarmPAC, the political arm of the Alabama Farmers Federation, this week began to publicize their Cherry Communications survey (Feb. 2-6; 600 likely Alabama Republican primary voters, live interview). The results post Congressman Brooks to a tight 34-29-24 percent lead over former Business Council of Alabama president and CEO Katie Britt, whom FarmPAC supports, and Durant, who now runs a defense engineering company headquartered in Alabama. In this survey, Durant again emerges as an additional contender with staying power who can clear a victory path.

As February began, Britt released her internal Deep Root Analytics survey (Jan. 29-31; 2,088 likely Alabama GOP primary voters; live interview, automated response calls and online) that gave her a slight 29-28-23 percent split over Brooks and Durant. Finally, WPA Intelligence, polling for the Club for Growth who supports Rep. Brooks (Jan. 25-27; 513 likely Alabama Republican primary voters live interview), saw the congressman holding a 35-30-25 percent edge over Durant, who vaulted into second place in this poll, and Britt.

All three candidates have strong positives and the financial wherewithal to remain competitive until voters first cast their ballots at the end of May. Two of the three, Brooks and Britt, can expect to benefit from active outside support, while Durant is already funding his effort to the tune of just over $4 million with likely more to come.

Britt is the leading fundraiser. At year’s end, she had raised just under $5 million, all from donors, and reported approximately $4.1 million cash-on-hand. Sen. Shelby has also committed to spending $5 million from his own campaign treasury as an independent expenditure to support Britt, his former chief of staff.

Rep. Brooks, never known as an aggressive fundraiser, had brought in $2.15 million at the end of 2021, with almost $2 million remaining in his treasury. The Club for Growth is likely to spend seven figures in their own independent expenditure to aid the congressman’s statewide effort.

As mentioned above, Durant has invested over $4 million into his effort according to his December year-end financial disclosure report, which represented virtually all of his campaign treasury. He has already spent well over $1 million on a media blitz that has successfully placed him in serious contention.

Early in the race, former President Donald Trump announced his support for Rep. Brooks, who was one of his earliest backers in the original 2016 national campaign. Reports now suggest, however, that this endorsement is tepid — the former president has publicly criticized Brooks’ campaign for being weak, for example — in that Trump was apparently impressed with Britt when he met with her. Durant is also making favorable comments about Trump in his ad campaign.

Therefore, the push for Brooks that might have been present from a Trump endorsement, as we have seen for other Republican candidates, may not be as much of a factor in this campaign.

Rep. Brooks had the early momentum and huge polling leads, but his advantage has certainly dissipated in the succeeding months. His message is typically right of center, relies on Trump and his tenure in the House as one of the legislative body’s most conservative members.

Britt’s latest ad campaign emphasizes the pro-life issue, and criticizes the Democrats for their support of late term abortion. With the US Supreme Court potentially now debating overturning the Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973 as the justices confer to reach develop a ruling on the Dobbs vs. Jackson Mississippi abortion case, Britt is attempting to take advantage of the renewed interest in the pro-life issue within the Republican electorate.

Durant is taking another tactic. Ignoring his primary opponents, Durant is going after President Biden and appears to be attempting to make his campaign a referendum on the current Administration within the Republican electorate. Should Rep. Brooks and Britt begin to attack each other as a way to solidify first place, Durant might have the chance of coming from the outside with a candidacy that is above their fray and capture one of the runoff positions.

What was once thought of as a potential runaway for Rep. Brooks has turned into a serious three-way contest in which any one of the three top candidates could conceivably win the party nomination. This will be one of the more interesting contests to monitor on a crowded May 24 primary night, where voters from four states will be casting ballots to potentially award party nominations.

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