HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Congressman Mo Brooks’ Tuesday’s loss in the GOP U.S. Senate primary follows a campaign that had to contend with both too much and not enough.
The results show Brooks faced too much money and too much fire directed at him in a seemingly endless parade of ads from the campaign of U.S. Sen. Luther Strange and his allies. And, Brooks did not get enough support in North Alabama or develop enough name recognition statewide to overcome the attacks.
Campaign spending records show Brooks spent nearly $1 million, $938,000, during the campaign.
Brooks finished third, and out of the race Tuesday to be the Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat. Strange and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will face each other in a runoff Sept. 26.
In remarks to supporters Tuesday night in Huntsville, Brooks acknowledged the deluge of attack ads:
“When I got into this race, I had a lot of people encouraging me to get in,” Brooks said. “I think I knew better than they did, what it was going to entail. But when you make a decision, to jump into a race against powerful foes who don't let honesty or honor stand in the way of their quest for victory, well, you know what's coming at you.
“Even though in this instance, I was a little bit surprised at the extremity to which they went. I just want to dispel some of the false statements. Nancy Pelosi and I are not best friends. That was one of the attack ads and if you don't take my word for it, ask Nancy Pelosi. I do not support the Islamic State, that was another attack ad. And I do support the United States military.
“And the list just goes on and on and on with the kind of deception, that unfortunately prevailed in so many parts of the state of Alabama, but which fortunately was soundly rejected in the 5th Congressional District among the people that know me best.”
Strange spent $2 million and received at least $1 million in support from the Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. From the outset, Brooks worked to point at that support as being the product of the “Washington Swamp Critters” who opposed real reform and President Trump’s agenda.
The attack ads may have surprised Alabama residents who know the full-throated conservative views of Brooks. Along with calling him too liberal for Alabama, the ads also sought to drive a wedge between Brooks and Trump, pointing out Brooks supported Trump’s primary opponent, Senator Ted Cruz.
And Trump, about a week before the election, endorsed Strange. He also made a recorded call for the Strange campaign that was used across the state Monday. Trump is facing sagging approval ratings nationally, but he remains popular in Alabama.
Trump’s support for Strange may have hurt Brooks in North Alabama in counties that went strongly for Trump in November. Brooks needed his North Alabama base to give him large margins of victory to offset voter unfamiliarity with him south of Birmingham.
But that’s not how it turned out.
Brooks got 51 percent of the vote in Madison County, his home. He got just 41 percent of the vote in Limestone County, finished second to Moore in Morgan County while getting 34 percent of the vote and he finished third in Jackson County, getting just 18 percent of the vote.
He also finished third in Colbert and Lauderdale counties.
Brooks received more than 82,000 votes statewide, 54,000 votes behind the second-place finisher Strange.
His votes didn’t provide a margin of victory Tuesday, but his voters could prove decisive in the runoff. Moore received 162,000 votes, about 26,000 more than Strange. Both campaigns will look to woo Brooks’ voters and the Huntsville Congressman came close to endorsing Moore Tuesday night.
“Now I want to compliment Judge Roy Moore on the high-quality race that he ran, a very principled campaign, a very honest campaign and perhaps most importantly a very honorable campaign,” Brooks said. “And I'm here tonight, I'm here tonight to congratulate him on making it to the runoff and having run the kind of above board campaign that he ran in the face of, like me, in the face of a huge onslaught of money and opposition."
"So Judge Roy Moore, congratulations.”
Brooks also addressed Strange’s campaign. He complimented their bare-knuckled approach, even as he took another dig at the campaign's “establishment” support:
“There's another candidate, that also made the runoff, I want to congratulate Luther Strange for having fought very, very, very, very hard,” Brooks said. “Equally important though, I want to congratulate the people that were behind him: Mitch McConnell, K Street lobbyists, the establishment.
“Folks, those guys got behind their candidate, they sacrificed their money and they worked hard. They put together some very tough ads, knowing full well that I was not in a position to respond, like Roy Moore's not in a position to respond, and perhaps will not be able to respond in the runoff.
“But still, accolades must go to those who fought as hard as they fought.”
Then he summed up the campaign, wishing Strange’s team had “fought a little harder toward someone else, rather than me. But that's the way it goes."
“They decided that I was their chief competition in the primary and they waged a campaign accordingly.”
With his Senate bid over, Brooks told supporters he plans to seek another term as the Congressman for the 5th District.