An under-the-radar Alabama special election might have paved the way for one of the most outspoken, socially conservative Republicans yet to ascend to the House: businessman Dean Young.
“This race shows that this is the Deep South, and that social conservatives win races down here,” said Alabama Republican consultant Bob Kish. “This isn’t North Carolina or Virginia. This is the Deep, Deep South where people go to church twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays, so it’s pretty conservative society.”
On Tuesday night, Young and former state Sen. Bradley Byrne made it into a GOP runoff for the 1st District nomination. Byrne, a 2010 gubernatorial candidate, had the most money and highest name identification of the nine Republicans running in the primary and took 35 percent. But Young stunned Republicans by garnering 23 percent and earning the second spot on the Nov. 5 runoff ballot.
Many local Republicans say Young — who tapped into the social conservative base in Baldwin County by publicly condemning same-sex marriage and invoking the Bible and the Constitution in his ads — has a more motivated base, and thus, a shot at winning the runoff.
Republicans also cited a pledge Young signed to oppose same-sex marriage and his support for changing the state party's bylaws to expel any members who publicly support gay marriage. He told a local cable affiliate last month, “If you want to have homosexuals pretending like they’re married, then go to the Democrat party."
Republican operatives predict that it will be tough for both Byrne and Young to sway voters who cast their ballots for other candidates in the crowded GOP primary into their columns. Instead, whichever candidate is most successful at getting their supporters out for a low-turnout runoff will win.
“[Young] excited his base more than Byrne excited his base, and that’s what you don’t want if you’re Bradley Byrne,” said one Republican operative in the state. “So you have to change the narrative of going from logic to emotion. That’s what Dean has done.”
Many credit Young’s success to his ties to Roy Moore, the controversial Alabama Supreme Court chief justice.
Moore rose to fame when he was removed from his position on the court for refusing to take down a display of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Judicial Building. He was re-elected as chief justice in 2012, and local sources said many of Moore’s supporters from that election turned out for Young in Tuesday’s primary.
Young's conservative bona fides also caught the eye of failed Nevada GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle.
Angle's OurVoice super PAC spent $40,000 on direct mail and television ads for Young’s congressional bid, according to independent expenditure reports, which helped Young compete with Byrnes' war chest.
In Alabama, candidates must garner at least 50 percent in a primary to win outright, or the top two vote recipients proceed to a runoff. Byrne and Young are vying to replace former GOP Rep. Jo Bonner, who resigned in August to take a job with the University of Alabama system.
Alabama's 1st District is rated a Safe Republican contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call. Whichever candidate wins the GOP runoff will be the next member of Congress from this deeply conservative district.