By Bill Crawford
Some may think last week’s congressional primary result in South Alabama foretells good things for Senator Thad Cochran and other Republican senators facing challenges by Tea Party candidates.
GOP establishment candidate Bradley Byrne defeated grassroots Christian and Tea Party favorite Dean Young in the Republican run-off for retiring Congressman Jo Bonner’s House seat. Byrne is a former state senator who was upset in the Alabama Republican primary for governor in 2010 by Robert Bentley, also a grassroots Christian and Tea Party favorite. Young is a businessman and Judge Roy Moore supporter who previously ran unsuccessfully for Congress and Secretary of State.
Going into the run-off, polls showed the candidates neck and neck. Fearful that another “apocalyptic conservative” was about to be elected to Congress – “I’m a Ted Cruz guy,” said Young – national business groups dumped piles of money into Byrne’s campaign. He outspent Young $689,000 to $260,000. Politico.com reported the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent another $200,000 and Ending Spending, a group bankrolled by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, spent $75,000 on Byrne’s behalf. National Republicans also got involved. Politico reported House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy sent checks to Byrne, along with dozens of Washington-based political action committees.
With all this support, Byrne eked out a 52.5% to 47.5% win.
On the surface this looks like business and the GOP establishment took on the Tea Party and won.
Young was unable to garner endorsements, much less financial support, from major Tea Party organizations. Missing in action were the Club for Growth, the Tea Party Express, and the Madison Project PAC, each of which has endorsed Sen. Cochran’s opponent. Indeed, the Club for Growth and the Madison Project PAC have already started running ads for him.
This lack of support lends credence to a number of conservative bloggers who described Young as a flawed candidate.
Still, his passionate grassroots support almost propelled him to victory.
No doubt the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other national and state business groups would dump tons of money into a Cochran primary. Likewise, he would garner substantial support from the GOP establishment.
On the other hand, his opponent has already shown he will draw significant support from national Tea Party groups. And he appears to be a favorite of grassroots Tea Party and Christian activists in Mississippi.
Only two things seem clear at this time about next June’s primary. One, if Sen. Cochran runs, he will need to raise a lot of money and get in the game soon. Two, if he doesn’t run, he needs to step out quickly to give others time to gear up and get in the game.
Either way, the Republican civil war is coming to Mississippi.
» Bill Crawford (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.