Bradley Byrne greets his supporters at Winzell's, his election night headquarters, in downtown Mobile Ala. on Tuesday Nov. 5, 2013.
Sharon Steinmann/

How establishment GOP (just barely) beat the tea party in Alabama


Republican Bradley Byrne beat tea party activist Dean Young for a House seat on Tuesday night, a slim victory for establishment Republicans in the GOP’s civil war against the tea party.

Byrne won the Republican primary of an off-year special election to replace the six-term Republican Rep. Jo Bonner. In the extremely conservative district of Mobile, Alabama, the primary effectively decides the seat.

Byrne, an attorney and former state senator from the Republican party, won by four points against Young, a tea party activist and businessman who recently declared President Obama to be born in Kenya, called gay marriage a “corruption which seeks to destroy the concept of family” and sought to oust Republicans in the state’s party who supported it.

D.C. bigwigs came to Byrne’s aid at the urging of establishment Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner, helping the Republican to outraise his tea party opponent by two-to-one. TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts’ PAC, End Spending, spent $75,000 on TV ads in Alabama, the U.S Chamber of Commerce spent $200,000, House leaders Rep. Eric Cantor and Rep. Kevin McCarthy both sent checks, according to Politico, as well as dozens of Washington-based political groups.

In Young’s concession speech, he said the tea party was far from done fighting.

“The established Republicans did everything they could, they poured their money into it and they barely, barely beat you guys,” he told defeated supporters on Tuesday night. “This is the first warning shot that goes out across the nation that people in the United States are tired of where our government is going and I thank God for all of you.”

Indeed, Politico’s Mike Allen reports that this was an important race in the GOP’s civil war.

“Some people were saying for Republicans this was the most important race of the day because it was such a clear sign post of where Republicans need to go,” he reported on Wednesday’s Morning Joe. “Like the big Christie victory, it’s going to be a moderating leavening force in the Republican Party. It’s going to give the party leaders, the people, in Washington, the people who have been thinking about the future of the party  it’s going to give them a big weapon against the people who are trying to pull the party right.”

Former senior advisor to Obama, David Axelrod, said it was the first race that showed business’ disgruntlement with the tea party.

“The fact is the business community had made a Faustian bargain with the tea party in 2010 and 2011 and 2012,” Axelrod said on Morning Joe. “It all came home to roost in the shutdown, in the flirtation with default, and they realize, this is serious business, and we need serious people. That was reflected in where they put their money in these races.”

Morning Joe , 11/6/13, 8:52 AM ET

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And political activists are gearing up to repeat this victory again in 2014.

“Hopefully we’ll go into eight to 10 races and beat the snot out of them,” former Ohio Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio told the National Journal. LaTourette has founded a PAC, Defending Main Street, to fend off tea partiers. “We’re going to be very aggressive and we’re going to get in their faces.”

But former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said the tea party won’t be go quietly in 2014.

“A special election in Alabama—that’s a very different environment for a Joe Ricketts to play in. I don’t think we should overstep. Next year, we’ve got a whole different dynamic. The tea party is not going to go quietly into that good night, certainly not on the money front,” Steele said on Morning Joe.

Bloomberg’s Al Hunt agreed.

“I think the celebration is premature. This was the perfect storm if you will for that side,” Hunt said. Byrne “was running against a guy who how shall I put it charitably, was bonkers, I mean really, really was crazy. The money poured in galore. Everything was in his favor and he won by four points, I don’t find that terribly convincing.”

“But he won by four points in a special election, which is usually more conservative,” host Joe Scarborough added. “House Republicans in Congress right now who think they’re untouchable, they’re going to look at this race.”

“This is the revenge of the establishment,” David Gregory added on Morning Joe.

Morning Joe , 11/6/13, 7:59 AM ET

GOP beats back Tea Party in Alabama

Politico Playbook: “The Republican establishment struck back on Tuesday, notching a win over a tea party candidate in a closely-watched special runoff election for an Alabama congressional seat,” writes Politico’s Alex Isenstadt. Mike Allen discusses.

How establishment GOP (just barely) beat the tea party in Alabama