HOMEWOOD, Ala. (AP) - Republican Senate hopefuls made last-minute pitches to primary voters Monday in the tight race for the GOP nomination for seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Richard Shelby.
The three leading candidates in Tuesday's primary - U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, former Shelby aide Katie Britt and veteran Mike Durant, a businessman best known as the helicopter pilot held captive in the "Black Hawk Down" battle in Somalia - concentrated their efforts in Republican strongholds in north Alabama, attempting to sway undecided primary voters and combat a flurry of negative attack ads in the race.
The fractured field increases the chances the primary will go to a June 21 runoff, which will be required unless a single candidate captures more than 50% of the vote.
Brooks appeared at a rally in Huntsville with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as he seeks to overcome former President Donald Trump's harsh criticisms and decision to rescind his endorsement. Trump had initially endorsed Brooks - who had been a key champion of the false claims that the 2020 election was stolen - but Trump rescinded that endorsement in March, citing Brooks' languishing performance and accused the congressman of going "woke" for saying it was time to move on from the 2020 presidential outcome and focus on upcoming elections.
Brooks is trying to prove he can still win anyway.
Brooks, a six-term congressman from north Alabama, is banking on his long history with Alabama voters. "With Mo Brooks, there is no risk if you want a conservative, I'm the only conservative in the race," Brooks said.
Cruz said the race will decide what kind of Republican the red-leaning state will send to the U.S. Senate.
"This race is going to determine whether or not we have a proven conservative who will stand and fight and lead. And if you look at the insanity that is going on in Washington, we need warriors," Cruz said.
Durant, running on his status as a military veteran and business owner without political experience, received a folded U.S. flag from supporter Ashlie Combs during a stop at a barbecue restaurant in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Combs, a former military truck driver and interpreter, said Durant's story inspired some of the men she served with to join the military.
"I'm the the non-career politician. I'm the one who has combat veteran experience, business owner experience. I'm in it the for the right reason. I'm in it to serve," Durant said. "I'm not in it because I've aspired to be this my whole life. In fact, I don't like politics. But we need people like me in Washington."
Durant has faced an onslaught of negative ads that he said distorted his views on gun rights and other matters. He said he is asking voters to see through millions of dollars spent in "lying attacks ads."
"I'm going to ask the people of Alabama to see that and come out and vote for me," Durant said.
Brooks is seeking to triumph after a war of words with Trump, who has not endorsed another candidate since withdrawing his backing in March after their relationship soured.
Britt planned an afternoon event in Cullman. Before leading the Business Council of Alabama, Britt served as chief of staff to Shelby, one the Senate's most senior members and a traditional Republican known for his ability to bring home federal projects and funding to his home state.
Britt said while her experience would allow he to "hit the ground running" she would bring a fresh perspective to Washington.
"People want new blood, they want fresh blood. They want something different in the United States Senate. They want that from the top down," Britt said in an earlier interview with The Associated Press.
Lillie Boddie of Florence, small business owner Karla M. Dupriest of Mobile and Jake Schafer also are on the ballot.