MOBILE, Alabama — Political endorsements often don’t matter much in swaying voters’ decisions, but Senate candidate Katie Britt on May 3 secured an affirmation that could prove unusually significant in the nationally watched Republican primary race in Alabama.
The endorsement in this coastal city came from Sandy Stimpson, who may just be the best current mayor in the United States. A conservative Republican elected three times in a black-majority city, Stimpson is a unifying and even beloved figure among all of the otherwise-warring Republican subgroups from pro-Trump to Never Trump, Tea Party to establishment, blue-collar to professional. Although a youthful 70, he is seen as having no calculating designs on higher office, so an endorsement from him is seen as sincere rather than self-seeking — sort of a political Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
Stimpson’s endorsement won’t in itself make people change allegiances, but it could prove an important factor for undecided voters thinking, but previously not certain, that Britt might be worthy of support.
As the former board chairman of a conservative state think tank that tackles local, state, and national issues, Stimpson cited Britt’s ability to see the interrelatedness of the three realms of public policy. While Britt hails from the inland parts of the state rather than the coast, sometimes a large divide in Alabama, Stimpson said he has been impressed, in working with her for years, that “she really understands the things [economic development, local issues] particularly driving this part of the state … and she takes a vast amount of knowledge with her to D.C. And she is a leader. She is a team builder.”
Britt, at age 40, already is a former chief of staff for retiring Republican Sen. Richard Shelby and a former president of the Business Council of Alabama. She exudes an almost dizzying energy and an intensity that is almost, but definitely not quite, off-putting. Her words flow in a torrent, with voluminous statistics and reasoned arguments and conservative lingo all intertwined complicatedly. Somehow, though, she remains able to be well understood by listeners, with her message’s internal logic perfectly intact and compelling.
Give her just a tiny opening, for example, and she’ll be off on an oral dissertation on immigration policy — Trumpian in its support for a border wall, businesslike in its insistence on systemic reform to focus on skills- and merit-based immigration, compassionate in its concern for the border’s humanitarian crisis and its human trafficking, and furious at the amount of deadly fentanyl being smuggled across.
“Among people in the United States between the ages of 18 and 45 last year, more people died from fentanyl than from COVID,” she told me. “It’s time we stopped it from coming in, time to step up and fight for the American people.”
And, oh yes, she is specific with her preferred legislative solutions, too: for immigration, the RAISE Act sponsored by Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton; to get spending under control, the “Five Penny Plan” of Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. And so on.
The Alabama race has attracted more than a usual share of attention because former President Donald Trump first endorsed Rep. Mo Brooks, who at one time was more than 50 points ahead of Britt in the polls, and then dramatically unendorsed Brooks after the congressman’s poll numbers tanked. Meanwhile, a third candidate emerged from virtual nowhere: Mike Durant, the pilot who survived 11 days of captivity dramatized in the movie Black Hawk Down, put millions of his own dollars into highly effective TV and radio advertising. He temporarily edged into polling first place ahead of Britt.
But Durant, who according to people I trust actually does speak with policy substance in private, refuses to debate and isn’t much for grassroots organizing or pressing the flesh. He’s coming across as aloof, even as Britt relentlessly visits every Alabama county multiple times and resolutely wades into every crowd.
The first primary election is on May 24. If no candidate earns 50%, a two-person runoff primary will be held on June 21, and it is now almost a foregone conclusion that Durant and Britt will be in it. The race is fluid enough that neither would be seen as a strong betting favorite ahead of the other. But that’s where an unusually influential local endorsement can help.
If Durant and Britt fight to a draw upstate, from where both of them (broadly) hail, but Stimpson helps Britt carry the two conservative coastal counties, well, that would be her ticket to the Senate.