Chamber-backed Republican beats Tea Party candidate in Alabama race

Former state Sen. Bradley Byrne won the Alabama 1st District special election Republican runoff, setting him on a path to an easy win in the December general election.

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With 91 percent reporting, The Associated Press called the race for Byrne, who took 53 percent to businessman Dean Young's 47 percent.

In its final weeks, the special election to replace retired Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) became a microcosm of the fight between Tea Party and establishment wings of the GOP playing out on the national stage.

Byrne drew early and enthusiastic establishment support, in part due to a wariness among mainstream Republicans about a Young candidacy. 

The Tea Party-backed businessman has previously launched multiple unsuccessful political bids, including a largely self-funded primary challenge to Bonner. 

This election, Young made headlines when he declared he's "against homosexuals pretending like they're married," and has called for President Obama's impeachment.

He counts evangelical social conservatives as his base of support, and was counting on their enthusiasm in his pursuit of a win. Despite the deep-red tint of the district, however, Young's underfunded grassroots campaign was no match for the establishment backing Byrne drew.

That establishment support — he nabbed contributions from the PACs of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — helped Byrne significantly outraise Young. He raised $689,000, more than twice as much as the $260,000 Young managed to draw — including $175,000 the real estate developer lent to his own campaign.

And just last week, Byrne received the Chamber of Commerce's endorsement, the business group's first since it signaled it would play a larger role in primaries post-shutdown to fight back against the Tea Party wing of the GOP.

Byrne and Young largely agreed on substance, but split on the shutdown — while Byrne said he didn't think it was a good idea, Young had been quoted as saying the shutdown "was not the end of the world," and declaring it should continue "until we get some real answers and get some real changes in Washington."

In the final week of the race, the Chamber spent nearly $200,000 to boost Byrne's bid, and the group has indicated it could engage similarly in other races that pit the Tea Party versus the establishment.

Young benefited from $10,000 in ads spent for him during the runoff by a PAC launched by Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle, the Tea Party-backed candidate who lost to Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in 2010.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden (D-Ore.) praised Byrne in a statement that also gave a nod to Bonner.

"This district has a history of sending talented and effective Republican legislators to Washington, and I have every confidence that Bradley will carry on that tradition of excellence by winning the general election next month," he said.

“I look forward to working with him to reduce wasteful federal spending and hold Washington accountable."

The two headed to a runoff after finishing ahead of state Rep. Chad Fincher, newspaper columnist Quin Hillyer, who was endorsed by Rick Santorum; and former Republican National Committee aide Wells Griffith, who was backed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in the September primary.

Byrne is expected to easily defeat Democrat Burton LeFlore in the deep red district.