Alabama GOP Candidate Boosted by Shelby’s Appropriations Network

  • Katie Britt, former Shelby aide, courts Hill players in Senate bid
  • She faces Rep. Mo Brooks who was endorsed by Donald Trump

Katie Britt’s getting a boost from her former boss, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, in her bid to replace him in the Senate.

Sen. Richard Shelby plans to use his own campaign funds and sway with colleagues to help Britt overcome Donald Trump-backed primary opposition. Amid a whirlwind of fundraisers and meetings for Britt this month in Washington, many of Shelby’s colleagues described her as extremely well-qualified to succeed him after he retires next year and possibly even win a slot on the powerful committee that oversees $1.3 trillion in annual spending.

Shelby’s made no secret of his desire to help Britt defeat Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) in the May primary and position her to become the first female senator from the state. The six-term lawmaker also is courting support for Britt among the panel’s other GOP members, many of whom already know her from her previous work as Shelby’s top aide.

“I think she’s got a lot of goodwill, she worked up here,” Shelby said in an interview after he hosted one of several recent Washington fundraisers for Britt. “Lots of these people know her as my chief of staff.”

The race is shaping up to be a test of whether the establishment wing of the Republican party can successfully counter the Trump’s influence. It also underscores the power struggle between Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-Ky.), a Shelby ally who’ll need loyal senators to reclaim the majority leader’s post if his party wins back the chamber in 2022 . Trump has made it clear he wants to depose McConnell as Senate GOP leader.

Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) is trying to help a former aide succeed him in the Senate.

Shelby said he plans to support Britt “substantially at the right time.”

“But you got to win it on the battlefield,” he said. The senator’s leadership PAC has already contributed $10,000 to Britt, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission at the end of September. To further help Britt, Shelby said he plans to draw on his ample funds, including the $9.7 million his campaign had in cash on hand and his leadership PAC’s $6.5 million.

Britt served as press secretary for Shelby after graduating from the University of Alabama in 2004 and then later became his chief of staff after he won re-election in 2016. She served in that post until 2018 when she left to serve as president of the Business Council of Alabama. While she never worked directly for the Appropriations Committee, she developed relationships with the panel’s members as Shelby’s top staffer.

Senior appropriators expressing support for Britt’s bid include Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), likely to inherit Shelby’s spot as the panel’s senior Republican, as well as Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

“I don’t look at those endorsements,” Murkowski said in an interview of the former president’s backing of Brooks. “I look at those who know the job. She knows the job.”

Murkowski, a Trump critic, is also facing a primary opponent endorsed by the former president.

“I know that Sen. Shelby has a lot of confidence in her and I like women candidates,” Capito said in an interview. Her leadership PAC gave Britt $5,000, as did the leadership PAC of Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who isn’t on Appropriations.

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Katie Britt is seeking to succeed her former boss, Sen. Richard Shelby, as the next senator from Alabama. Britt is introduced on stage during pre-race ceremonies prior to the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 3.

Succession

The race is of particular interest to appropriators, as it’s common for the successors of those who helmed the committee to claim coveted posts on the same panel even as first-term lawmakers.

After former Chair Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) retired in 2018, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) was appointed to serve the balance of his term and immediately took over his Appropriations slot. Former Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) left Congress in 2015, and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) quickly won a committee seat.

Shelby has honed a reputation for delivering billions from his appropriations perch to develop the Port of Mobile, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and other priorities. Britt is expected to reflect Shelby’s pragmatic approach.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he attended one of the Britt fundraisers and that she’d represent the state well.

“She has a good understanding of how the system works and what Alabama needs,” he said.

The GOP primary victor will be heavily favored to win the seat. In 2020, Trump carried the state by more than 25 percentage points and Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R) unseated incumbent Democrat Doug Jones by more than 20 points.

Brooks, a six-term House member, has sought to draw contrast with Britt by portraying himself as a Capitol Hill rebel. He’s battled appropriators as a House Freedom Caucus founding member and advocated government shutdowns. But he’s also been criticized for speaking at a rally near the White House on Jan. 6, 2021, before protesters stormed the Capitol. He also voted to overturn Electoral College votes for Biden.

Britt declined in an interview to criticize Brooks for his actions on Jan. 6. But she said Alabama needs a leader “who knows how to get things done in Washington.”

“It’s one thing to be able to identify problems,” Britt said. “It’s another to be able to create solutions that move the needle.”

Washington Visit

Britt has outraised Brooks by some $2 million and had $3.3 million on hand by the end of September, compared with Brooks’ $1.9 million.

Meanwhile, the Alabama Conservatives Fund, which registered with the FEC in August, has already reported over $778,000 in expenditures for TV ads supporting Britt. As a super PAC it can raise and spend unlimited funds. The fund won’t disclose its donors until January.

In Washington this month, Britt and her husband Wesley, a former University of Alabama football player who later suited up for the New England Patriots, met with lawmakers and industry group representatives with business before the Appropriations panel.

Photographer: Eric Lee/Bloomberg
Rep. Mo Brooks(R-Ala.), who is running for Senate, here speaking during a “Save America Rally” near the White House on Jan. 6.

Brooks is being supported by the conservative Club for Growth’s super PAC, which often opposes appropriators’ bills and is running ads in the state. Stan McDonald, Brooks’ campaign chairman, criticized Britt’s fundraising drive.

“Katie Britt is a Washington, DC lobbyist—no wonder the DC insiders and swamp creatures are behind her—that’s her only base,” McDonald said in a statement. “Mo Brooks has the support of President Trump and the Alabama grassroots because he’s a conservative fighter who keeps his word. That’s what he’s done in the House, and it’s what he will do in the Senate.”

A December survey by Republican pollster McLaughlin & Associates found Brooks leading all GOP candidates with 31% and Britt at 24%. Behind them was Michael Durant at 17% and Jessica Taylor with 4%. When the firm polled about a potential Brooks-Britt runoff matchup, Britt drew the support of 39% and Brooks had 37%. The firm said 25% were undecided.

David Mowery, an Alabama-based political consultant, said Brooks underestimates Britt at his peril. Arguments she’s part of the “swamp” may not work when he’s been in Congress 12 years, Mowery said.

“If you’re gonna crack that whip, you better make it sting because he’s been in Congress longer than she’s been involved in politics,” Mowery said.

With assistance from Kenneth P. Doyle

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bloombergindustry.com

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