Chamber-backed candidate wins GOP runoff in Alabama 1
It was fairly close, but former state senator Bradley Byrne edged real estate developer Dean Young by 52-45% in the Republican run-off election in Alabama's 1st congressional district to decide who would be on the ballot in December for a special election to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Jo Bonner.
Byrne, backed by big money from outside sources like the US Chamber of Commerce, was challenged by Tea Party upstart Young, who was severely outspent by the establishment candidate.
In an election that came just weeks after a tea party-led government shutdown that scarred the Republican Party, the GOP establishment took a stand against Byrne, who applauded the shutdown, vowed that he wouldn't support John Boehner as speaker and said he believed President Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent around $200,000 on Byrne's behalf, and Ending Spending, an outside group bankrolled by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, spent around $75,000 on TV and ads boosting him. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy sent checks to Byrne, as did dozens of Washington-based political action committees.
In the end, Byrne outraised Young more than two-to-one. While Byrne and his allies dominated the TV airwaves, Young was forced to rely on a grass-roots-style campaign.
In a deep-red district where Mitt Romney received 62 percent of the vote, the concern among many establishment Republicans was that Young - - through his harsh rhetoric and bomb-throwing - would be ideally situated to appeal to the conservative voters who would be the most motivated to vote in a low-turnout special election. As recently as last week, polling showed Young in a neck-and-neck race.
While Young promised to be an outspoken conservative in the House - he was quoted at one point as saying that if he wins people should get "a big ole thing of popcorn and a Big Super Gulp and lean back and turn on C-SPAN" - Byrne warned that his opponent's style would embarrass the GOP.
Conservative outside groups like the anti-tax Club for Growth have used Republican primaries to boost insurgent candidates, sometimes against sitting incumbents, with the goal of steering the GOP's congressional wing further to the right.
But after the shutdown, establishment Republicans say they're increasingly likely to invest in primaries, too. And the Alabama race - pitting a business-friendly former state legislator and flame-throwing tea party figure - was a perfect playground.
"It's become plainly obvious that staying out of primaries is not a good strategy. You have to play aggressively," said David French, the chief lobbyist for the National Retail Federation. "I think you're going to see more of that in the 2014 cycle."
Lessons? None that come to mind. The better organized and better funded candidate won - as is usual. Being outspent 2-1, Young showed well for his first foray into politics. But aside from his incendiary language, there wasn't much of a difference between the two. Both opposed the deal ending the shutdown. Both supported defunding Obamacare. There may be a difference in tone between the two, but Byrne is going to be a reliable conservative vote in Washington on most issues.
And he will have to run again in 2014.