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Republican candidates in Alabama primary are embracing Big Lie to align with Trump

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Alabama has a primary tomorrow. Republican candidates up and down the ballot are trying to prove they're aligned with former President Donald Trump by denying the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. It's a full-on embrace of Trump's big lie. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Watching the ads running up to Alabama's Republican primary, you might think it was still 2020 - like this one from Governor Kay Ivey's reelection campaign...

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

KAY IVEY: The fake news, big tech and blue-state liberals stole the election from President Trump. But here in Alabama, we're making sure that never happens.

ELLIOTT: ...Or this one from Congressman Mo Brooks, who's running for Senate. It opens with his speech before the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

MO BROOKS: America does not need any more weakling, cowering, wimpy Republican congressmen and senators.

On January 6, I proudly stood with President Trump in the fight against voter fraud.

ELLIOTT: Brooks, wearing body armor under his jacket at the time, urged the crowd to, quote, "start taking down names and kicking ass." The congressional committee investigating January 6 has subpoenaed Brooks to testify, after he declined to cooperate. President Trump at first endorsed Brooks in the Senate race but then withdrew his support in March after Brooks fell in polls behind candidates Katie Britt and Mike Durant. The race has since tightened, with Brooks close behind Britt. She's the former chief of staff to longtime Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, who is retiring, opening up this battle for his seat. Durant is a political newcomer. He's a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot and POW in the incident that was the subject of the book and movie "Black Hawk Down." He, too, is an election denier.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

MIKE DURANT: The American people were robbed in 2020.

ELLIOTT: For her part, Katie Britt stopped short of calling the 2020 election stolen but advocates for a forensic audit. Governor Kay Ivey, pressed on the matter, doesn't sound as sure as she does in her campaign ad.

IVEY: Nothing's ever been proven about that, but it sure seems like there was some monkey business going on.

ELLIOTT: Regardless, the message resonates with voters like 80-year-old Wayne King of Brewton. He says he's already cast an absentee ballot for Ivey and, in the Senate race...

WAYNE KING: Mo Brooks - he's had a lot of experience.

ELLIOTT: King said he's not dissuaded by the fact that Donald Trump pulled his support from Brooks.

KING: Well, that's Donald Trump, but he has done a very good job. He just tweets too much, and he's got too much ego.

ELLIOTT: King and other conservative voters bring up the notion that Mike Durant was coaxed by liberals to enter the race, though there's no evidence of that. Durant, a government contractor, has lagged in recent polls despite outspending his opponents, fueled mostly with his own money.

MELISSA ROBINSON: I don't know about Mike Durant.

ELLIOTT: That's Republican voter Melissa Robinson of Evergreen, Ala. She's not necessarily a fan of Mo Brooks, either. She's a Trump supporter but did not approve of the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

ROBINSON: I thought, what is this country coming to?

ELLIOTT: Robinson says she's leaning toward Britt, in part because of the ads she's seen, where Britt talks about her faith and her opposition to abortion rights.

ROBINSON: I think she's a strong, strong Christian.

ELLIOTT: Britt, who is 40, most recently worked as head of the Alabama Business Council. She has financial backing from a super PAC affiliated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, one that's aggressively attacking Mo Brooks. Eighteen-year-old Jake Moore from Clanton, Ala., will be voting for the first time in Tuesday's Republican primary. He's already weary from the political divisiveness he sees coming out of Washington and is looking for a reset. Moore says Katie Britt could help foster that.

JAKE MOORE: A balance between bipartisanship and selling out, you know? She's strong, stands by her values, but she's a reasonable person. I think she's got my vote.

ELLIOTT: If no one gets a majority of votes, the Republican Senate race would go to a runoff next month. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Evergreen, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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