In Mountain Brook, Ala., on a recent Wednesday, Will Brooke — a bespectacled businessman who is running in the GOP primary in his state's 6th Congressional District — speaks to a crowd in the driveway of his sister-in-law's tree-ringed house. "You're going to elect a Republican in Alabama 6. Period. End of story," he says. "We will send a Republican to Congress. So if you're going to send one, send a good one."
It's a pretty fair summation of the stakes in Alabama's 6th. The district is among the safest Republican seats in the country: The current GOP House member, Spencer Bachus, never got less than 70 percent of the vote during his two decades in office. Bachus is retiring, opening the way for seven would-be successors who are crisscrossing the district for votes ahead of the Republican primary on June 3. Whoever wins is virtually guaranteed to coast to victory in November.
Brooke carries a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in his jacket pocket, and his first big introduction to voters was a self-described "silly video" in which he fired increasingly large-caliber bullets through a copy of the Affordable Care Act before finally tossing the damaged remains into a wood-chipper. Yet the candidate — who says he agrees with tea-party ideas but prefers to label himself "a solutions guy" — isn't conservative enough for everyone in the district. Chad Mathis, a smiley-faced orthopedic surgeon, has gathered significant support from what you might call the tea-party establishment — the Madison Project, FreedomWorks, the Senate Conservatives Fund. On May 1, the powerful Club for Growth endorsed him. "He's the ideal candidate we look for in races like this," a spokesman for the group, Barney Keller, told me, comparing him to Ted Cruz and other conservative firebrands.