MONTGOMERY — Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Rep. Mo Brooks in Alabama's 2022 Senate race, siding with the conservative firebrand who riled up the crowd before the Capitol riot over other contenders in the state's all-important Republican primary.

Trump announced his support in a statement shared by the Brooks campaign for the seat being vacated by six-term Sen. Richard Shelby.

"Few Republicans have as much courage and fight as Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks," Trump said in the statement, adding that Brooks "will stand up for America First no matter what obstacles the Fake News Media, RINOs, or Socialist Democrats may place in his path."

In a state where Trump won 62% of the vote in 2020, the former president's backing is an important prize. When Shelby, 86, announced that he won't seek reelection to the seat he's held since 1987, he ignited what is expected to be a messy GOP primary at a time when the national Republican Party is trying to chart a direction following Trump's departure.

One potential primary opponent took himself out of the running Wednesday when Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill admitted to an extramarital affair and said he would not seek any elected office in 2022.

"With the end of my term coming up in January of 2023, I have been presented with a variety of options for where my path in public service could lead," Merrill said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. "After much prayer, reflection, and conversations with my wife, Cindy, I have decided that I will not be a candidate for any office in 2022."

After initially denying reports of having had an affair, Merrill told Al.com that he had “an inappropriate relationship” with a 44-year-old woman.

Merrill had denied the affair Wednesday morning and accused the woman, Cesaire McPherson, of “stalking” and “harassing” him, Al.com reported.

Merrill later admitted to the relationship after being played part of a tape McPherson provided to the news organization. On the tape, "Merrill and McPherson discuss various sexual acts they performed during dozens of romantic encounters that McPherson says took place between November 2017 and November 2020," Al.com reported.

Brooks still faces Trump ambassador Lynda Blanchard in the primary. Another potential candidate is Shelby's former chief of staff, Katie Boyd Britt, who now heads an influential business lobby.

"I ask all Alabamians who share our America First vision to heed and honor President Trump's request by joining our campaign," Brooks said.

Brooks, 66, a five-term congressman and founder of the Conservative Freedom Caucus, has become a staunch Trump ally. He was fiercely criticized for telling a rally preceding the January Capitol riot that it was time to "start taking down names and kicking ass." Brooks said the phrase was intended to fire up the crowd for the next election cycle and is being misconstrued as advocating the violence that followed.

Blanchard, a businesswoman who was Trump's ambassador to Slovenia, said Wednesday that she's remaining in the race and is steadfast in her commitment to Trump.

"I have been unwavering in my support of President Trump since the day he came down the escalator in June 2015. He is the greatest President of my lifetime, and I intend to go to Washington as the United States Senator from Alabama to represent the America First agenda that President Trump championed every day," Blanchard said.

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