Republican Bradley Byrne defeated his insurgent conservative opponent in an Alabama House race Tuesday, notching a hard-fought victory for the business wing of the GOP.
With more than 90 percent of votes tallied, the Associated Press called the race for Byrne over Dean Young, a Christian conservative aligned with the tea party. Byrne led Young 53 percent to 47 percent.
The campaign marked the first big electoral test for business-minded Republicans riled by the recent government shutdown and standoff over the debt ceiling. Byrne, a business attorney and former state senator, said during the campaign that shutdown was not good for the country, while Young said it “was not the end of the world.”
The result in Alabama was one of several blows to the cast-iron conservative wing of the GOP on election day. Conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli II’s loss in the Virginia governor’s race and centrist Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s resounding win in New Jersey are sure to stoke talk in GOP circles about the party’s need to get behind more moderate candidates.
Byrne is now in the driver’s seat to succeed Republican Jo Bonner, who vacated the 1st District seat earlier this year to take a position in the University of Alabama system. Byrne and Young were the top two vote-getters in a September primary in which no candidate won a majority of the vote.
Bonner was part of a flurry of establishment GOP support that rallied to Byrne’s side during the runoff. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent at least $199,000 on his behalf, while big companies such as AT&T and Home Depot donated thousands to Byrne’s campaign down the stretch.
Byrne often cast himself as a “work horse” in an effort to contrast himself with Young, who he characterized as a “show horse.” He urged voters to send someone to Washington not just to fight, but to fight and be an effective voice for the district.
Despite being outspent and having almost no support from national conservative groups, Young made a race of it by rallying his base of evangelical Christians and tea party voters angry with the federal government and eager for the next fight. He sought to criticize Byrne as a pol beholden to establishment interests who would mean business as usual if elected to Congress. Young cast himself as a fresh voice ready to shake things up.
For business leaders, the victory in Alabama is a much-needed boost of momentum headed into 2014, when they will be looking to elect like-minded candidates to other seats across the map, including those currently represented by tea party Republicans. Two such seats are in Michigan, where tea party-aligned Reps. Kerry Bentivolio and Justin Amash have already drawn Republican primary challengers.
Another possible front is in Idaho, where business groups may opt to help Rep. Mike Simpson (R), who has drawn a primary challenger running to his right. The anti-tax Club for Growth has lined up behind that challenger, attorney Bryan Smith.
Byrne will face Democrat Burton LeFlore in the Dec. 17 special election to succeed Bonner. The Republican is expected to skate to victory due to the heavily conservative tilt of the district. Mitt Romney won more than six in 10 votes there in 2012.