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Alabama: 1st District Special Election Crowded

By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report

August 12, 2013

Nine Republicans and two Democrats have filed to run for the 1st District (Mobile, etc.) congressional seat vacated by US Rep. Jo Bonner (R). As the roster of candidates suggests, the district is heavily Republican. Romney carried the district last year with 62% of the vote. The district is 68% white and 28% black.


The favorite to lead in the first primary is Bradley Byrne, 58, a former state senator and former chancellor of the Alabama Community College System. Byrne ran for governor in 2010; he led in the first primary, with 28%, but lost the runoff to now-Gov. Robert Bentley by 44% to 56%. During the campaign, he was accused of supporting evolution, based on a dispute over the place of evolution and creationism in the school curriculum, a charge he strongly denied.  


The betting is that Byrne will not get a majority in the September 24 primary. Whoever comes in second is likely to run to Byrne’s right, setting up a contest between an establishment conservative and a more ideological, hard-right conservative. Notes Birmingham Southern political science Professor Natalie Davis, if his runoff foe “is a Tea Party type, it would make Bradley Byrne vulnerable. Absent that, he will probably win.” Former state GOP Chairman Marty Connors points out that “Bradley won a plurality in that district, but only a plurality.”


Four contenders are good bets to make the runoff with Byrne. “Each has their own niche,” notes Connors.


Dean Young, 49, challenged Bonner in the 2012 GOP primary, coming in second with 24% to Bonner’s 56%. Young is a former aide to state Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), an activist evangelical Christian. Young, a real estate developer, is promoting a staunch conservative message, but also promising to help small businesses create jobs. He has already put $100,000 into the race.


Chad Fincher, 39, is a third-term member of the Alabama House of Representatives. He is registered forester as well as in the real estate business. He serves as chairman of the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee and is a member of the influential Ways and Means Committee.


Quin Hillyer, 49, is a conservative journalist who has written for the Mobile Press-Register, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Gambit, the American Spectator and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He served as press secretary to former US Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA). His right-leaning commentary has appeared in numerous other publications. He also served as writer-in-residence at the University of Mobile.


Wells Griffith, 31, is “the wild card in the race,” says one GOP insider. A lawyer, Griffith served as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Republican National Committee, providing him with important contacts to help him raise money. He has already been endorsed by US Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the GOP’s 2012 veep nominee. Although a native of Mobile, where his father owned a service station, Griffith has not lived in the district in a while. His impact at this point is unclear.


The other Republicans who have filed, who are less likely to make the runoff, are

Daniel Dyas, a general contractor; Jessica James, who is in the real estate business and is a former candidate for the state Board of Education; Sharon Powe, who has been a legal assistant to the Small Business Administration; and David “Thunder” Thornton, a retired Shell Production Specialist.


The two Democrats in the contest are Burton LeFlore, who is in real estate and is the grandson of John LeFlore, a noted civil rights leader in Alabama; and Lula Albert-Kaigler, who lost a bid to become an Obama delegate in 2012.


One independent, James Hall, a former Marine, has announced he is running.


The court-approved timeline for the election, announced by Gov. Bentley, calls for the party primaries to be held on Tuesday, September 24. If no candidate receives a majority, then a runoff will be held on Tuesday, November 5. If no runoff is needed, then that will be the day of the special General Election. If there is a runoff, then the General Election will be held on Tuesday, December 17.


Since there are nine Republican candidates, with a number of them having a significant base, a GOP runoff is likely. Only two Democrats filed, so there will be no Democratic runoff. 


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