In Alabama's 1st, a Referendum Against the Tea Party

Republicans still have a lot of work before they can take back the House.

Former two-year college chancellor Bradley Byrne, left, won the GOP nomination over Orange Beach businessman Dean Young for Alabama's 1st District seat in the House of Representatives Tuesday.
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Republican Bradley Byrne, who leaned on the business leaders within the GOP for support during his race, beat tea party candidate Dean Young in Alabama's 1st Congressional District Tuesday night.

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Byrne's victory marks a major victory for the establishment wing of the Republican Party that has sat back these last few years as it has been inundated with major losses. Since the 2010 tea party wave took the House of Representatives, tea party candidates have knocked off GOP establishment candidates in Texas, Indiana and Missouri. Byrne's victory is even more remarkable considering the candidate was a Democrat in the deep South until 1997.

 

Young's tendency toward headline-making gaffes came to light days before the race, which may have helped Byrne to paint his opponent as "too extreme" for the district. Mother Jones reported Monday that Young told a group of supporters in 2002 that all the gay rights supporters in the district should "go back to California." And a story in the Guardian also revealed Young did not know who the current whip in the House of Representatives is or the name of the secretary of the Treasury.

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Winning Tuesday virtually secures Byrne's position in Congress. Alabama's 1st Congressional District is solidly Republican, with GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney taking nearly 62 percent of the vote there in 2012. But Byrne will have to run in a general election against Democrat Burton LeFlore and Independent candidates Curtis Railey and James Hall in December.

The district is a patchwork of rural areas, but includes the city of Mobile, which has attracted several big businesses in recent years. Car companies such as Honda and Mercedes have factories near the port city that boosted the economy there and the legal and financial services industries boosted Byrne's war chest. The Chamber of Commerce dumped nearly $200,000 into the race to support Byrne.

Byrne outspent Young $403,926 to $151,818 in the race with more than $200,000 still in the bank for the general election.

Republican establishment leaders such as Karl Rove have vowed to pour in more money to support establishment candidates in upcoming elections. After a government shutdown in Washington that badly damaged the GOP's messaging strategy and their poll numbers, leaders within the party say the tea party can expect more of the same in upcoming primaries.

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But Kyle Kondik, a University of Virginia-based expert in congressional races, warns that this race is hardly setting a precedent. National tea party groups such as Club for Growth and FreedomWorks stayed on the sidelines during this bitter primary.

"I wouldn't read too much into it," Kondik wrote in an email to U.S. News. "Byrne had a ton of advantages and only won a close race. National Republicans can breathe a sigh of relief but it's not like Tea Party candidates are just going to give up."

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