Two Upset Winners

Igniting strong momentum from their respective second-place finishes in primary elections, Baptist pastor Mark Walker and Alabama think tank founder Gary Palmer won major upset victories last night in their respective North Carolina and Alabama Republican congressional run-off elections.  

Both secured local and national conservative support, attracted endorsements from defeated primary opponents, and converted new voters with strong grassroots efforts, a combination that worked seamlessly to outpace establishment-backed opponents.


Palmer defeated state Rep. Paul DeMarco by a whopping 64-36 percent margin.  Palmer had finished 13 points behind DeMarco in the June 3 Republican primary, but with all but one of the defeated candidates endorsing him, in addition to many conservative movement organizations both nationally and in Alabama, the second place primary finisher easily overtook the youthful state legislator in last night’s vote.  

While DeMarco had a clear financial advantage and backing from business associations and the NRA, Palmer had the decided edge in the field.  His stronger grassroots operation took advantage of the lower turnout, and scored 47,491 votes of the 74,786 ballots cast.  The total turnout represents the exact 25 percent drop-off projected from the primary turnout.

Palmer now becomes the prohibitive favorite to defeat Democrat Avery Vise in what is one of the safest Republican congressional districts in the country.  Last night’s election tabbed Gary Palmer as retiring Rep. Spencer Bachus’ (R) successor.  He is now a sure bet to become a new member of the 114th Congress when it convenes in January.  

Yesterday’s victor is the founder of the Alabama Policy Institute and has been active in state legislative policy issues for more than two decades in his position as president of the organization.  Palmer will likely be an activist conservative member of the new House.  This is his first bid for public office.


Venerable Congressman Howard Coble (R-Greensboro) is retiring after 15 terms in the House, but his successor won’t be his publicly endorsed choice.  Pastor Mark Walker easily defeated Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr. last night in the Republican run-off election.  On May 20, Berger paced the field with 34 percent of the vote.  Walker was a surprise second place finisher, garnering 25 percent, which was strong enough to eliminate seven other candidates.

Berger is the son of Phil Berger Sr., the state Senate president.  Controversy arose in the run-off campaign when Walker filed ethics and Federal Election Commission complaints against the Berger operation, and Phil Sr., specifically.  Walker believes money contributed to an outside Super PAC formed for the purposes of supporting Berger were illegally coordinated with the actual campaign.  He purposely highlights one national Republican organization, formed to support state and local candidates, that contributed $75,000 to the pro-Berger outside effort.  Phil Berger Sr. is a former officer of the Republican State Leadership Committee, which made the large contribution to the Berger-aligned Super PAC.

Though Rep. Coble and the local Republican establishment were clearly behind Berger, Mr. Walker was able to coast to a 60-40 win from a very low 31,421 individual voter turnout.  Walker percent countered Berger’s establishment support by receiving the endorsements from the candidates defeated in the primary, some of the ex-US Senate candidates, and Ray Coble, the congressman’s brother.  Like Palmer in Alabama, a superior grassroots effort played to his benefit.

With the Greensboro-based 6th District voting heavily Republican (Romney 2012: 58 percent), Mark Walker should cruise to victory in the general election against former University of North Carolina administrator Laura Fjeld (D).

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