A six-week mulligan for the Club for Growth ends on July 15, when voters will pick a GOP nominee in Alabama's 6th District runoff.
After the club's preferred candidate did not advance to the runoff, it regrouped by endorsing the second-place primary finisher, conservative activist Gary Palmer. And this time, GOP operatives in the state said the club's spending could be enough to propel Palmer to victory over his foe, state Rep. Paul DeMarco, in the race to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus.
"Palmer has benefited from the Club for Growth," said Bob Kish, a GOP operative who has worked on Alabama races. "I think it’s enough to put Gary over the top."
DeMarco had a 13-point advantage over Palmer in the primary. Once the leader of the Alabama Policy Institute, Palmer also had a financial disadvantage, bringing in $345,000 to DeMarco's $594,000 in the reporting period before the runoff.
But DeMarco received no outside help during the six-week runoff. Instead, he faced $255,000 worth of negative television advertisements attacking his record as a state legislator.
Republican operatives in the state say that influx of outside group cash has shifted momentum to Palmer's side. They also said DeMarco's attack ads on Palmer — specifically, his support for a 2003 tax increase in the state — didn't stick in the district. GOP operatives added that DeMarco's interviews with the local press didn't help his cause.
"The local press has been unbelievably harsh toward Paul," said one unaffiliated GOP operative in the state. "They wrote an editorial saying he shot a gun but shot his foot instead. Paul is still receiving the support of the business community and local elected officials, but it's tough to see how the momentum is not on Gary’s side."
Another Palmer advantage? His ties to the religious community in the district. He's a member of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, which boasts a congregation of more than 4,000. It could make a difference in a low turnout election.
A Palmer win would serve as a much-needed victory for the club. The conservative group had some high-profile primary losses earlier this year, when their endorsed challengers lost to Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
"Paul DeMarco had a disastrous week last week, where he failed to explain to one of the top conservative talk show hosts in the district whether or not he had ever sponsored a tax increase," said Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller. "Gary Palmer has momentum going into Election Day. We are confident he will be another addition to the pro-growth caucus in November."
Still, Republicans say the race will be close. And in a low turnout mid-summer runoff that could see just a few thousand voters, DeMarco could still have a shot, especially given his built-in base of support in his state legislative district.
Whoever emerges from the GOP runoff will almost certainly come to Congress. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won here in 2012 with 74 percent, making it one of the strongest Republican House districts in the country.
Alabama's 6th District is rated a Safe Republican contest by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
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