Alabama Senate Primary Now Competitive

For the most part, early polling has given Alabama US Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) a big lead in his open Senate Republican primary race, but a series of later surveys reveal a major change on the ballot test.

According to the new McLaughlin & Associates survey of the Alabama Republican electorate, Rep. Brooks’ lead has dropped to single-digit points over former Business Council of Alabama CEO Katie Britt, with business owner and military veteran Michael Durant, a relative newcomer to the race, also making his presence felt. An earlier unrelated poll actually found Ms. Britt posting a slight edge over the field.

The McLaughlin study (12/6-9; 500 AL likely Republican primary voters; 80% self-identified Republicans; 20% non-Republicans who say they will vote in the Republican primary; live interview) projects Rep. Brooks to be holding a 31-26-17% advantage over Ms. Britt, who is also a former chief of staff to retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R), and Mr. Durant. In a troubling sign for Mr. Brooks, a hypothetical runoff contest between the Congressman and Ms. Britt fell the latter candidate’s way on a 39-37% count.

Before November, Mr. Brooks held huge polling leads, from 23 to 43 points in surveys conducted during the August through October period. The McLaughlin poll seems to reinforce a developing trend that the Strategy Group and the Cygnal polling organization detected in November polling.

Cygnal (11/3-4; 650 AL likely Republican primary voters; text; interactive voice response; email), polling for the Alabama Conservatives Fund, actually saw Ms. Britt, for the first time, taking a slight 24-22-9% lead over Rep. Brooks and Mr. Durant. 

The Strategy Group (11/1-4; 784 AL likely Republican primary voters; live interview and interactive voice response system) found the Brooks lead over Ms. Britt to be only 28-23%. The SG poll was conducted largely as an issue survey for the Alabama House Republican Caucus, but they asked one question to test a Brooks-Britt isolated Senate primary, which could be a precursor to a runoff contest.

The Alabama race is another where former President Donald Trump has come out early with an endorsement. His support helped Rep. Brooks build a large early lead, but the former President will have to come more to the forefront if his candidate is to reverse the latest trend.

The McLaughlin survey asked questions designed to better isolate what drives large segments of this particular Alabama Republican polling sample.

A positive for Britt was the response to the question about whether the respondents would “favor a candidate who has been in elected office for almost four decades and wants to bring that experience to the US Senate” (Brooks) or one who “is a political outsider who wants to change the way things are done in the US Senate (Britt). Not surprisingly, the respondents favored Ms. Britt’s latter profile by a 69-13% margin.

In Brooks’ favor was the question about whether the respondents favored a candidate who supports a “traditional and mainstream Republican policy and issue agenda”, or one who “supports Trump’s issue agenda.” Again, not surprisingly, the sample cell broke 64-26% for the candidate supporting the Trump issue agenda.

The Trump endorsement question and whether the respondent would vote for a candidate simply because the former President had endorsed the person resulted in a weaker response.

A total of 19% of the respondents said they would vote for a candidate because of the Trump endorsement. Conversely, almost 6% said they would vote against such a candidate for the same reason. For most, however, it appears the Trump endorsement is not a deciding factor. A total of 38% said they would keep an “open mind” about supporting the Trump endorsed candidate, while an additional 33% said the Trump endorsement has no impact upon their vote.

With Ms. Britt posting strong end of September fundraising totals ($3.7 million raised as compared to Brooks’ $1.7 million), Sen. Shelby committing to spend and additional $5 million in an independent expenditure to help her, and polling already getting closer, Katie Britt has positioned herself well for the coming campaign. Rep. Brooks may still have an advantage, but the gap between the two has clearly closed.

The Alabama candidate filing deadline is January 28th for the May 24th primary. If no candidate receives majority support in the first election, a subsequent runoff contest will be conducted between the top two finishers on June 21st. The only announced Democratic candidate is former Brighton Mayor Brandaun Dean.

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