Rep. Bachus battles super-PAC in toughest primary challenge of his career

Rep. Spencer BachusSpencer Thomas BachusManufacturers ramp up pressure on Senate to fill Ex-Im Bank board Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE (R-Ala.) is facing one of the toughest primary challenges of his two-decade career Tuesday, thanks in part to a Texas-based super-PAC that has already taken down a fellow incumbent.

Bachus is fighting to win an 11th term, and fighting harder than he has had to in years, dogged by ethics allegations and the efforts of the Campaign for Primary Accountability.

The little-known anti-incumbency group has become much more visible recently, helping a physician and political unknown, Brad Westrup, unseat Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) and oust the first incumbent in the 2012 campaign cycle.

Now, the group is setting its sights on Bachus, calling him a “debt-raising status quo politician” with close ties to “Wall Street buddies,” complicating his efforts to beat his closest challenger, state Sen. Scott Beason.

In general elections, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee has routinely cruised to victory in his GOP-heavy district, winning with at least 90 percent of the vote over the last decade, including 98 percent in 2010. But primaries typically have not been nail-biters for the long-term lawmaker either, as he pulled in three-quarters of GOP voters in that same 2010 bid.

And Bachus enjoys a sizable $1.7 million war chest, which dwarfs Beason’s haul of roughly $54,000. However, the super-PAC has spent $169,000 on the race, with more to come before polls close on Tuesday, according to spokesman Curtis Ellis.

“It’s an uphill battle,” he said. “The best we can hope for, and even that’s going to be difficult, is forcing him into a runoff.”

In Alabama, a candidate needs 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff. Bachus’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The group has set its sights on long-term lawmakers from both parties, arguing the current system makes it too difficult to actually challenge entrenched lawmakers. In addition to Bachus, it is running ads against Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), and jumped into a redistricting fight in Ohio, backing Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich in his failed challenge against the more senior Democrat Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

“All we are is the equalizer,” Ellis said.

Bachus, besides enjoying a substantial lead in funds, also seems to be holding on to a fairly healthy lead among voters.

He won a straw poll held by the Jefferson County Republican Party on Wednesday, and a February poll commissioned by the super-PAC found Bachus pulled 63 percent of support from voters, well ahead of the 17 percent for Beason.

However, there are indications Bachus could be vulnerable.

The poll found that when voters heard about how he received major donations from Wall Street banks and supported the bailout, his support dropped to 44 percent and Beason’s rose to 21.

And a recent run of ethical questions about Bachus is further driving talk that the longtime lawmaker could be bumped out of office.

The lawmaker has been defending himself for months against claims that he used private congressional information to make profitable financial trades. He was one of a handful of lawmakers singled out in a “60 Minutes” report on the topic, and is under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics for his trades. Bachus has repeatedly said he did nothing wrong and will ultimately be exonerated.

But with the investigation looming, both Beason and the super-PAC have highlighted those questions in their attacks.

Bachus has fought back with his hefty funds, pumping roughly $1.5 million into the race, clearly aware of the super-PAC forces aligned against him. He has addressed the allegations directly in ads, arguing they are trumped-up charges pushed by “liberal Washington reporters,” as well as “out-of-state interest groups.”