National tea party groups absent from Alabama race

November 4, 2013
(Brian Kelly/AP)
(Brian Kelly/AP)

If Alabama tea party candidate Dean Young defeats business-backed Bradley Byrne in a GOP primary runoff for the U.S. House on Tuesday, he will have done it with almost no help from national tea party groups, who have largely remained on the sidelines in a contest that has received widespread attention.

A controversial Christian conservative and tea party-aligned Republican, Young is running to the right of Byrne, a Republican with deep support from the business community. The Chamber of Commerce has dumped at least $199,000 into the race to help Byrne, who has received thousands of dollars from other business donors. Polls show a close race heading into Tuesday's election in the 1st district.

Young has received almost no support from national tea party groups. The Tea Party Express isn't playing in the race. Nor are the anti-tax Club For Growth and FreedomWorks, spokespeople for the groups confirmed. Ending Spending, a group that backed the campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who Young says he admires, is spending money to help Byrne win.

Young has received some reinforcements from a super PAC started by Sharron Angle, the 2010 tea party candidate who lost to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). But it's been no match for the money Byrne's allies are spending.

The radio silence has frustrated Young and befuddled his campaign.

"There are some people out there, but these larger groups, these huge groups that are supposed to be helping people like me -- they are nowhere to be found," Young said in an interview.

Jonathan Gray, Young's campaign consultant, put it this way: "If I was a cartoon, I would have question marks over my head."

There are a couple of reasons why most tea party groups, which when asked, shed little light on their decisions, have opted to stay on the sidelines.

For one, Young is an unpredictable candidate with a knack for stoking controversy with his comments. He said in a local interview that he opposes "homosexuals pretending like they're married." And he counts state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore as his top local supporter. Moore is best known for his refusal to take down a Ten Commandments monument in the state judicial building.

Alabama Republican strategist Brent Buchanan said he thinks the groups "don’t want to be associated" with some of Young’s statements.

Others have speculated that Byrne's allies have made a concerted effort to convince conservative groups not to enter the race on behalf of Young. When asked about that, Byrne's campaign spokesman only offered a general statement about its efforts to promote his candidacy in talks with outside groups.

"We reached out to various groups across the conservative movement throughout the primary to promote Bradley's record and contrast our opponent's background," said the spokesman, Alex Schriver.

The winner on Tuesday is expected to coast to victory in the Dec. 17 special general election in the heavily Republican district.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Aaron Blake · November 4, 2013