Katie Britt leaned over the railing of a livestock auction pen in Livingston, Alabama, and told an audience of mostly local farmers that she will answer their phone calls if they help send her to the U.S. Senate.
“I believe food security is national security. I believe the best thing the government can do, in almost every situation, is get out of the way. Right? Get out of the way! What you’re dealing with, with EPA overreach, what you’re dealing with, with overburdensome taxes, we need someone who will go fight against that,” she told the crowd.
Britt didn’t often bring Sen. Shelby up on a campaign trail, although when she did she praised him for being highly effective for Alabama.
For decades, no one has done more to direct federal money to Alabama than Britt’s former boss, Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabamian of rare political power, one who is about to retire and leave a gaping hole. Who can possibly fill that role? Britt says she can, and Shelby himself has backed her campaign, looking to catapult his former chief of staff into his seat.
“People ask all the time, if I’m gonna be Richard Shelby 2.0, and I say, I’ve learned a great deal from that man, and I will always be grateful,” Britt told AL.com.
“But I am going to take what I learned, I’m gonna take my knowledge of the state, take what I’ve seen in the Senate, and I’m gonna be my own person. I’m gonna stand on my own two feet. I am going to be Senator Katie Britt, I’m gonna be outspoken on conservative causes, and I’m gonna fight every single day for hard-working Alabamians,” she said.
Her two opponents have made few claims to become the next Shelby, as U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, has emerged as a national figure in the culture wars, one known for his bombastic speech before the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, and one closely aligned with former President Donald Trump — until Trump dropped him. Trump has not said whether he would switch his endorsement to either Britt or the other major opponent in the race, former military pilot Mike Durant, who was made famous after his capture in Somalia and its Hollywood depiction in Black Hawk Down.
But instead of separating herself by doubling down on her ties to Shelby and her experience inside what is arguably Alabama’s most powerful political office, Britt has spent her time on the campaign trail touting her Christian upbringing and taking positions on immigration and inflation and elections that aren’t much different than her opponents.
Although, she’s not reluctant to take shots at her opponents.
“We need a fighter, and we need someone who knows how to actually achieve results, not somebody who wants to write their third book, not somebody who wants to be on the back bench and yell out,” said Britt. “We need someone who is an effective fighter who will actually go get things done, and there is no doubt that that is me.”
The economy around Livingston, in West Alabama, one of the poorest places in the United States, is largely based on cattle farming and timber. Many beef farmers there say they can’t sell their product for enough to keep up with the rising costs of fuel and land. Britt vowed to advocate for them and to fight for Christian, conservative values.
Britt, who has been endorsed by the influential Alabama Farmers Federation’s FarmPAC, says her policy priorities are bringing education opportunities across the state through charter schools and by expanding broadband access in Alabama to help businesses. She wants to encourage business growth and entrepreneurship and help Alabama present a strong image of itself and keep taxes and cost of living low to attract and retain talented people.
“We have a great state, and we have great people, and we have a great story to tell,” she said.
Like her two opponents, Britt says she wants to stem legal and undocumented immigrants from entering the country by resuming building Trump’s border wall and by tightening immigration restrictions. She’s anti-abortion, pro second amendment, and has signed a pledge to investigate Dr. Anthony Fauci for possible corruption during his role leading the National Institute of Health in the pandemic.
She has attacked President Biden as weak on deterring Russia and on his COVID- era relief policies that she believes have contributed to inflation.
“I’m impressed with her, I really am,” said 72-year-old Leroy Bedwell, a retired paper mill worker who heard Britt’s speech.
“We took God out of our country. We don’t say our pledge of allegiance, we took it out,” he said.
“Faith first…and then family and freedom. That’s the three main things. If we don’t get that back, we’re doomed.”
Britt circled through the audience to shake hands, then got in her black campaign SUV to speak at the University of West Alabama, the school her dad went to, about building Alabama’s economy and about her conservative Christian values.
Katie Britt grew up in Enterprise, Alabama, attending the Presbyterian church her grandparents founded, fishing and “snipe” hunting, a game about an imaginary creature, with her sisters and cousins at her family farm they called “the pond house.”
As a kid, Britt worked in her Dad’s boat store, sweeping up in Enterprise, Alabama. At nine years old, she wanted something more fun to do and asked for a job at the local children’s store, said her mom, Debra Boyd, who ran a dance studio in town.
“She went in and asked them if she could come to work and help them out and she did such a great job with the customers and with her working that they would give me a discount on clothes,” Boyd said.
“It’s just who she is. You know what I’m saying?”
Britt’s mother says she always had a “servant’s heart.” “She is a great negotiator. She is one person that can bring people together. I think that’s probably one of our best assets, is working with others well,” said Boyd.
Britt said she learned from watching her parents work six days a week in their multiple small businesses. They emphasized the importance of treating others with respect, loving the lord, and service.
The Boyd family was well-connected in Enterprise, a conservative community in southeast Alabama. Nearby Fort Rucker attracted new people to town who were reassigned to the area from other places. Britt went to church and Sunday school with many of them
“It was just a really incredible window into what I believe our country was founded on, which is Christian conservative principles and freedoms and liberties, and I got to see that first-hand, both faith and sacrifice, all in one place,” said Britt.
Britt was elected student body president in the 6th grade and again in college, according to her mother. Her lifelong friend Stephen Searcy remembers her winning awards for cheerleading and dance.
“She was super determined, hard working, very disciplined,” said Searcy. “I think so much of her DNA is just self-motivation.”
Searcy remembers water skiing and swimming on the lake with Britt’s family in the summers.
“Her mom always had food for everybody,” he said. “Those girls love each other, and were always looking out for each other, and they were always doing stuff together,” he said of Britt and her sisters.
Britt said she wasn’t without self-doubt as someone from small-town Alabama without a family political lineage. She said her grandfather convinced her that it didn’t matter.
“And my grandfather said, ‘Stop. Those are not the things that matter in life, that is not going to determine your path,’” said Britt. “‘On a foundation of faith, he said, the things that matter in life are your character, your integrity, your work ethic, and the way you treat people.”
At Alabama Girl’s State, Britt was elected governor and her interest in politics started to grow, she said. Her friend Mary Lee Caldwell, a fellow staffer for Sen. Richard Shelby’s 2016 election campaign first met Britt at Girl’s State.
“I can remember vividly sitting in the audience and just kind of being in awe of this young woman that had such a passion for our state, and you could just tell even at that age that she was somebody that was going to do big things,” said Caldwell.
Britt went on to intern for Senator Richard Shelby in 2004 as a student at the University of Alabama. There she was elected student body president, one of the first women to hold that office, said former mentor and UA administrator, Dr. Kathleen Cramer.
“Those were different times. We had had a few female presidents, but not many, her question was one of, ‘why shouldn’t everyone have an opportunity to serve in those roles,” she said, “she is always positive.”
Britt would eventually end up becoming Sen. Shelby’s press secretary.
After that she attended law school at the University of Alabama School of Law and became a lawyer for the Alabama-based firm Butler Snow LLP. Britt was special assistant to University of Alabama President Robert Witt before returning to Shelby’s office as his Chief of staff after his re-election in 2016. She later headed the Business Council of Alabama.
She has two children, a sixth and seventh grader with her husband Wesley Britt, a former football player at the University of Alabama and the New England Patriots in the NFL.
After a decades-long career, Shelby used his role as head of the appropriations committee to bring financial support to Huntsville’s aerospace industry, including billions in defense dollars, along with money for Mobile’s ports, and research dollars for Alabama universities.
“Alabama will now find itself with two freshman senators with really very, very limited influence and power in that senatorial process, so Alabama will be at its weakest level of inside power than it’s been, maybe in its history, but certainly a long time,” said Dr. Gerald Johnson, a professor emeritus of political science at Auburn University.
President Trump’s election ushered the grassroots wing of the Republican party, focused on individual-rights and anti-government overreach, into prominence, said Johnson. Someone like Shelby represents a more traditional, business-focused Republican philosophy.
“It’s hard for me to determine exactly who Katie Britt is and where she is located on that continuum. Her language is pretty far-right, pro Trump. Her lineage, her behavior, her mentorship under Sen. Shelby, seems to me, would place her much more in a traditional conservative Republican or a moderate Democrat category than Sen. Shelby was.”
Britt has been endorsed by major associations in the state, including the Alabama Farmer’s Federation, the Alabama Retail Association, the Forestry Association, and a coalition of Alabama Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. In recent polls, she remains behind Mike Durant, a former air force pilot and businessman who self-funded his campaign and has surged ahead in the race from his early status as a relatively unknown figure.
“Since we’ve had the emergence of Trump-ism in Alabama Republican politics, it’s unclear what the future looks like for politicians of Senator Shelby’s stripe,” said Dr. David Hughes, professor of political science at Auburn University.
Since Trump dropped his endorsement of Brooks, who had already begun to fall behind in polls, Durant has claimed that he believes Biden did not win the 2020 election.
Britt has stopped short of saying she believes the race was stolen but said she believes there was “fraud” in the election and has called for a forensic audit of the 2020 election. In March, she declined to directly answer whether she believes Republicans in the race are facing a purity test from Trump.
Momma on a mission
Heading towards the primary on May 24, Britt is campaigning eagerly to try to close on Durant’s lead in the race. She has criticized him for declining to debate.
Britt maintains that, unlike Durant, she was born and raised in Alabama and has shown consistent commitment to the state.
Britt has received financial support from Sen. Richard Shelby’s campaign war chest, along with support from WinRed, a national-level GOP fundraising PAC.
Mo Brooks, who is looking to move from the House to the Senate, has questioned her sincerity on the issues.
“Katie Britt is a master at border security deception,” Brooks said to AL.com in April. “America, there are ‘real deals’ and ‘pretenders’. On border security, Katie Britt is most definitely a ‘pretender.’”
Britt’s campaign fired back.
“This is another last-ditch attempt to distort reality by a candidate who has plummeted in the polls,” said Britt campaign spokesman Sean Ross. “The fact is that Congressman Brooks has only managed to pass one bill over six terms in Washington, and that was to rename a post office — not to secure our border.”
Judy Myrick and her husband Cecil attended a Britt rally at a gun store in Florence, Alabama, in March. Myrick became interested in Britt when she saw her ads on TV.
“I thought she was wonderful. It was everything that we need for our country. She stood up and said exactly what we all want. I appreciate her Christian values. I appreciate her wanting our country to be back the way it was before Biden.”
The Myricks have a great-grandson whose future they are worried about. They think President Biden has done nothing but drive up the cost of living in the U.S.
“Christianity and economics” are Myrick’s priorities, and she believes, based on listening to her, that Britt is a Christian.
“She’s not a politician. She’s a Momma.”