The elections being settled on Tuesday share a common theme: they're mostly blow-outs. But one race — between two staunch conservatives in Alabama's staunchly conservative First Congressional District — has turned into the must-watch contest for political junkies. The establishment is being challenged by an insurgent, and the insurgent is winning.
Bonner has endorsed Byrne — as has most of the traditional Republican establishment. Which is precisely why the contest is so interesting.
The shutdown fight in October was only the most recent and ferocious manifestation of the Civil War within the Republican Party, a struggle pitting establishment Republicans — like Byrne — against insurgents aligned with the Tea Party — like Young. In other words, Alabama's first district has become a proxy in the broader war between the GOP and the conservative rebellion. But not in the way you might think.
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.
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.
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.
A poll out last week shows Young, the button-pusher, up by 3 percentage points. The polling firm got the primary wrong, thinking that Young wouldn't make the run-off, so it's worth taking it with a grain of salt. But if you're RNC head Reince Priebus or the Chamber of Commerce, or a sitting House candidate in a Republican district, even Young losing by 3 points is a very, very bad sign.
If you're interested, you can watch Alabama election results here on Tuesday night.
Photo of Byrne via the AP, of Young, via the candidate's Facebook page.