Even before last week, there had been murmurs that Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) might face a serious primary challenge.
But on Friday, a front-page story in the Washington Post broke the news that the House Financial Services chairman is under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics for possible violations of insider-trading laws. Now, Bachus’ race against state Sen. Scott Beason is getting a fresh look, and Republicans in the state said this could be a real contest.
“The race is getting more interesting by the day,” said an unaffiliated Alabama Republican operative with knowledge of the race.
“It’s your fundamental establishment Republicans versus grass-roots Republicans,” the source said, noting that Beason has a lot of tea party support.
If Beason can hold Bachus to less than 50 percent in the March 13 primary, a runoff would be held April 24. The other races on the ballot — in particular, the presidential primary and a race for state chief justice — may influence turnout, but a month out, it remains unclear in whose favor.
Beason said the Post story reinforced his message and left people in the district asking him why Members of Congress get to play by a different set of rules.
“It’s really time for our Congressman to come on back home and for new people to be sent to Washington,” he said.
Beason admitted that his political views were similar to Bachus’, but he painted a contrast in what they’ve done.
“The difference is I have the proven record of actually making things happen, getting things done,” he said. “Going along and getting along has gotten us where we are, and I’m for turning the country around.”
A big test for Beason will be fundraising. Bachus had more than a million dollars in cash on hand at the end of December and has been airing TV ads in the district.
One ad that appeared to begin airing Friday in Birmingham had Bachus discussing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“Obamacare is just the government managing and controlling health care, making choices that doctors and patients ought to make,” he said in the 30-second spot. “It’s a socialist policy, plain and simple,” he added, before calling for its repeal. In the ad, there’s no mention of the ethics investigation or his primary opponent.
Beason said he would begin airing ads after he had sufficient resources, and he claimed his fundraising is proceeding at a good pace. He did not file with the Federal Election Commission until this year and therefore has not yet filed a fundraising report.
“We’re going to be [on TV] as soon as we can,” he said. “When we report [our money], I think people will be surprised at how well we’ve done.”
In a statement to Roll Call, Bachus said his campaign was going well and that he was heartened by his supporters. “Sometimes, political races may seem scripted and impersonal, but for me it’s all about reaching out to contact my friends and people who know my record,” he said. “There are ads on TV, but there are also ads in the small town newspapers, bumper stickers, yard signs and door-to-door volunteers. Some people think that’s old fashioned, but I believe that direct contact is what the voters in my district expect, and it is what I enjoy.”
In an earlier statement on the OCE investigation from his Congressional office, Bachus denied any wrongdoing and said he looked forward to “the full exoneration this process will provide.”
However the ethics investigation plays out, Republicans are now taking a much closer look at this race.
“Conventional wisdom is: Spencer’s going to sail right on to re-election,” said an Alabama Republican activist from the Birmingham area. “But I don’t know if you can count on conventional wisdom this year.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.