Frontline of GOP civil war: Alabama 1st
Lost in the larger races for governor in New Jersey and Virginia is the Republican runoff in Alabama's 1st distrct that is a microcasm of the civil war raging within the GOP.
Two candidates - one being heavily backed by the Chamber of Commerce and the other a Tea Party favorite - are vying for the GOP nomination. The winner will be a a certain victor in the December 17 special election - the result of Rep. Jo Bonner' resignation last summer to take a position with the University of Alabama.
Amid a concerted effort by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to secure a win for former state Sen. Bradley Byrne in the deep-red district, polls show his race against conservative underdog Dean Young remains a toss-up.
Byrne and Young are vying to replace ex-Rep. Jo Bonner, who resigned last summer to take up a new position with the University of Alabama. The winner of the GOP primary is considered a shoo-in to win the Dec. 17 special election.
The Chamber spent about $200,000 to boost Byrne's campaign amid widespread concern over the clout wielded by Tea Party lawmakers who led the GOP charge to shut down the federal government in a failed bid to repeal ObamaCare.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and several other GOP lawmakers have voiced their support for Byrne. Bonner has also endorsed the career politician as his replacement.
By contrast, Young is running a shoestring campaign, reportedly employing just one staff member.
But strategists wonder if the intensity of Young's conservative Christian base, as well as that group's reliability at the voting booth, might put him over the edge.
"Even though it's cliché to say, it depends on turnout," said Brent Buchanan, managing partner of Montgomery-based GOP consulting firm Cygnal.
"Whoever is invested most heavily in the personal relationships in the district is going to win it out."
Young and Byrne finished at the top of a crowded GOP primary field in September, and whoever wins Tuesday's runoff is expectedly to easily defeat Democrat Burton LeFlore.
Though Byrne has outraised Young by huge margins in the lead-up to the runoff, and is the clear establishment favorite, polls suggest Young remains competitive.
A new survey conducted by Cygnal gave Young a slight lead of 43.2 percent to 40.2 percent among likely voters, just within the poll's 3.03 percent margin of error.
About 16 percent of voters in the poll are undecided.
Young believes Obama was born in Kenya which makes him a comfortable fit for many in the Tea Party. Byrne, on the other hand, has moved significantly to the right, hoping to blunt Young's charge, only to anger his patrons at the Chamber of Commerce.
Many Alabamians resent the interference of the Chamber, which is also working against Byrne. It will probably be very close but Young has a real chance to pull off the big upset if he can motivate his supporters to get to the polls today.