Another special election is fast coming upon us. Alabama Rep. Jo Bonner’s (R) resignation from the House means a special primary on Sept. 24. The underdog Democrats filed two candidates, so the party will select a nominee in the first vote. The two contenders are former state Representative candidate Burton LeFlore and retiree Lula Albert-Kaigler.
The Republican side is a much different affair. With nine candidates on the ballot, a Nov. 5 run-off is a virtual certainty. The special general election is scheduled for Dec. 16. If neither party requires a secondary election, the special general will move to Nov. 5.
Former state Sen. Bradley Byrne actually placed first in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary, outpacing the eventual winner, Robert Bentley, and Tim James, the son of former Gov. Fob James (Democrat to Republican).
Byrne scored 28 percent of the Republican primary vote against Bentley and James, who both scored in the 25 percent range. Bentley edged James by just a tenth of a percentage point. Judge Roy Moore, who came to notoriety for his insistence of displaying the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, was fourth.
In the run-off, Byrne fell to Bentley 44-56 percent, indicating the strength of the Republican Party’s conservative wing. Byrne, viewed as the establishment candidate, came through a crowded primary but quickly became the underdog in a head-to-head race. Bentley went on to easily defeat Democrat Ron Sparks in the 2010 general election. Through the Sept. 4 Federal Election Commission reporting period, Byrne had raised over $317,000.
Dean Young is a local businessman who has previously run unsuccessfully for this congressional seat. Earlier, he entered the 2010 lieutenant governor’s race but withdrew before the candidate filing deadline. He then challenged Rep. Bonner in the 2012 Republican primary and held the then-four term congressman to 55.5 percent of the vote. So far he has raised $176,213 and has Judge Moore’s – his previous employer – formal endorsement. Moore still commands a strong following among the most conservative of Republican voters, a group that will be a significant factor in determining the outcome of the special primary election, which could mean a Young advantage.
Quin Hillyer is a national conservative columnist and former congressional aide with life-long Mobile roots. Hillyer and Young will be fighting over the same conservative base, thus it is conceivable one of the two will secure a run-off position. On the other hand, it is difficult predicting them both to advance because they will likely split the conservative base vote. According to the latest FEC filing, Hillyer has raised $168,707.
Wells Griffith is an ex-deputy chief of staff for the Republican National Committee and the former executive director of the Mississippi Republican Party, post completion of law school in the latter state. Griffith, 31, has raised $162,250, commensurate with the other viable candidates.
The only sitting elected official in the field of candidates is two-term state Rep. Chad Fincher. Clearly commanding a local political base in Mobile, Rep. Fincher is in the second tier of fundraising, reporting $102,035 in receipts.
With four more minor candidates on the Sept. 24 ballot, this race is very much in doubt. As always in special and low turnout elections, the candidate who best gets his votes to the polls wins the right to advance.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Byrne is the most likely candidate to secure a run-off position, and will probably finish first. But, as he saw in 2010, running ahead of a primary field does not necessarily lead to victory in a run-off election. Beyond Byrne, the race is wide open. With several candidates on virtual even footing in terms of financial resources and political base size, the contest can go any way. This last week of campaigning will tell the tale. In the general election, the eventual Republican nominee becomes the prohibitive favorite to keep the strongly conservative district in the GOP column.