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GOP Establishment Digs Deep For Alabama Special Election

Republican Dean Young (above) is backed by the Tea Party. He faces Bradley Byrne in a special runoff election Tuesday to fill Alabama's 1st Congressional District seat.
Phillip Rawls and Campaign of Dean Young
Republican Dean Young (above) is backed by the Tea Party. He faces Bradley Byrne in a special runoff election Tuesday to fill Alabama's 1st Congressional District seat.

If the Republican establishment doesn't get its preferred candidate in Tuesday's Alabama special congressional runoff election, it won't be for want of an overwhelming cash advantage.

Bradley Byrne, a former head of the state's community college system, has outraised Tea Party favorite Dean Young $689,000 to $260,000, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings. And Young's total includes $175,000 the real estate developer and political consultant has lent himself, meaning the actual fundraising ratio is more like 8 to 1.

The outside money ratio is also 8 to 1, according to an NPR review of FEC independent expenditure reports. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has, as of Halloween, poured in $199,000 to help Byrne in the final days before next week's runoff, paying for phone calls, emails, Web ads and direct mail pieces.

Young has benefited from $25,000 worth of television ads from Our Voice PAC, a group run by unsuccessful Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle. Angle was the Tea Party favorite who won the GOP nomination in 2010 but then lost to Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid. Her group had previously spent $40,000 helping Young in the days before the Sept. 24 primary election, which helped him finish second in the crowded field and set up Tuesday's runoff.

The election is the first in what could be a series of Republican primaries where establishment money that has traditionally been saved for a general election against a Democrat is instead spent defeating a Tea Party-backed candidate. Big businesses, investors and other traditional GOP allies have become increasingly frustrated with congressional Republicans willing to take confrontational positions to appease their Tea Party faction.

The government shutdown and apparent willingness to breach the nation's debt ceiling last month have led the chamber and other groups to decide to get more actively involved in Republican primaries.

Whether this big money advantage will matter is an open question. There has been little public polling — and polls of low-turnout special elections are notoriously unreliable to begin with. Nonetheless, Byrne's campaign has said it believes the race is close.

Young is a Christian conservative and former campaign aide to Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. He has accused Byrne of not accepting the Bible as literal truth and has praised Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for leading the push to defund the Affordable Care Act that led to the 16-day government shutdown.

Byrne has accused Young of being more interested in promoting himself than representing the Mobile-area district. He has received the endorsement of much of the city's establishment, including that of the former representative, Jo Bonner, whose resignation from the House in August led to the special election to replace him.

The seat is heavily Republican and the winner of Tuesday's runoff is expected to win the December general election easily.

S.V. Dáte edits politics and campaign finance coverage for NPR's Washington Desk.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shirish Dáte is an editor on NPR's Washington Desk and the author of Jeb: America's Next Bush, based on his coverage of the Florida governor as Tallahassee bureau chief for the Palm Beach Post.