Chamber of Commerce Spends Nearly $200,000 to Thwart “Tea Party” Candidate

The race for Alabama’s 1st Congressional District, left open when its former occupant became a university administrator, is becoming a perfect Petri dish for the ballyhooed “establishment fightback.” It’s a safe seat, one that gave Mitt Romney 62 percent of the vote in 2012. Whoever wins a Republican runoff will win the general election. This gives Dean Young, who challenged the last congressman in the 2012 primary, his best shot at beating State Sen. Bradley Byrne.

How electable is Young? He got 24 percent in the 2012 primary; he got 23 percent this year. But more important than the percentage was the vote total. Young won 21,308 votes last year, and only 12,011 to make it into this runoff. Byrne won the district when he ran for governor, but Republicans panic that Young,* whose moment of national fame came when he objected to “homosexuals pretending that they’re married,” could take a low-turnout November runoff. The sparse polling on the race suggests that it’s tied up.

Enter: the Chamber of Commerce. According to the chamber’s filings with the FEC, it’s spent, so far, $199,402.43 on the Byrne race. The knock on Mike Bloomberg is that his group has dive-bombed the airwaves but not organized; the chamber has spent $8,000 on mailing lists. Its political director, Rob Engstrom, has tried to kindle a controversy by claiming that Young wanted the chamber endorsement—ha, ha, some Tea Partier!

*I use the scare quotes in my hed because Young’s closest political ties are to religious conservatives, who obviously predate the Tea Party.