The Guardian interviewed both candidates last week, and two differences emerged. First, that Byrne clearly had a better grasp of national politics and of the politically astute way to respond to questions. Second, that Young didn't — and probably didn't care.
Where was Barack Obama born?
Byrne: He was born in Hawaii and he has produced a birth certificate.
Young: That is what we call the $64,000 question! I have no idea! [When pushed for an answer:] Kenya.
In another question, the two candidates were asked their views on homosexual relationships. Byrne said that gay people feel the same love for each other as straight couples. Young's now infamous response was, "Homosexuality is wrong, and that is just the way it is." This echoes Monday's revelation from Mother Jones that, while running for secretary of state in 2002, Young, right, told voters that if gays are unhappy with Alabama, "then maybe they need to go back to California or Vermont or wherever they came from."
To the Associated Press, Byrne described the difference between the candidates as one of style: "Tone is important." That's particularly true since the difference between the two is largely not about politics. While Young carries the imprimatur of the Tea Party, that's mostly because he is trying to take on the establishment, not because his politics differ dramatically from Byrne's in an objective sense. The Daily Beast summarizes Byrne's views.
Christianity has always been a strong part of his platform; he has said, "my faith in Christ is my foundation" and has insisted that every word in the Bible is true. He derides the "corrupt" IRS on his website and is backed by the NRA, the Chamber of Commerce, and Ending Spending, the super PAC largely funded by Joe Ricketts, the billionaire who considered running ads against Obama in 2012 that focused on his connection to Jeremiah Wright.
Byrne opposed the deal that ended the shutdown, has signed Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge, and supports teaching evolution in schools. And this is the non Tea Party guy.
Comparing Byrne's to Young's positions, Byrne's comment about tone does seem like a key distinction. That tone is intentional. Young's tone-deafness on gays and Obama's place of birth how he reinforces his conservative credentials. His political role model is Judge Roy Moore, the chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court who made his name by installing a copy of the Ten Commandments in the court building, and then opposing legal efforts to have it removed. This is Young's stated role model: a political actor who is motivated by his values. The image at left, from Young's Facebook page, summarizes the political difference. Byrne is willing to work with the party to make change in Washington. Young doesn't seem to care.
More than two dozen sitting Republicans have backed Byrne and given to his campaign. The Chamber of Commerce, flummoxed by the insurgency that led to the shutdown, has come in heavily in support of Byrne, whose support for the shutdown was at least moderated to some degree. The battle isn't about the Tea Party against another Republican. The battle is about whether or not the full weight of the Republican establishment can win a race in a Republican district against an insurgent whose strategy largely consists of pushing conservatives' buttons. This won't say much about 2016, but it's possible that it could demonstrate how often Republican House candidates in 2014 will face difficult primary challenges.