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But Young’s second-place finish shook up the race. He won that slot by turning out the district’s social conservative voters with his outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage and close ties with controversial Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
Local operatives said Young would be a departure from the district’s most recent representation in Congress. Both Bonner and his predecessor, Republican Rep. Sonny Callahan, served on the Appropriations Committee.
In a low-turnout runoff, Young has a shot at victory with an engaged evangelical base. During the special election, Young has said he is “against homosexuals pretending like they’re married” and lamented that “we are witnessing the end of a Western Christian empire.”
“Dean Young is one of these sort of unpredictable kind of guys where you don’t know what kind of fight he’s going to get into next week,” said Marty Connors, a local GOP operative and former chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, who said he is neutral in the race. “And that’s not the southern sensibility of the Mobile delta area.”
The 1st District continues to rely heavily on federal funding and contracts. Some local Republicans expressed concern this money could be jeopardized by Young’s hard line against spending. In a recent debate, Young compared himself to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the mastermind behind the GOP’s opposition to Obamacare that eventually caused the government shutdown.
“There’s a lot at stake with this member of Congress,” said Alabama GOP consultant Bob Kish, another neutral player in the race. “The district relies a lot on federal money: The harbor needs to be dredged, there are state docks, Airbus is coming in. So there’s billions of dollars flowing in here ... and can Dean Young navigate through that?”
The chamber’s endorsement and advertising will help Byrne turn out conservatives from the Mobile area. These suburbs are home to more moderate Republicans and the district’s main television market.
“A few votes can sway the election one way or the other, so I think the ground game is where it’s going to be,” said Alabama GOP Chairman Bill Armistead.
Whoever wins the GOP runoff next week will still have to face Democratic nominee Burton LeFlore in a Dec. 17 general election but will likely become the 1st District’s next representative. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the district by 24 points in 2012.