It’s election day today and there are a couple of important races. First, in Virginia, Terry McAuliffe is likely on his way to become governor as he holds a sizeable lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Cooch has received little financial support in the race, alienated women with his positions on birth control and has simply been seen as too extreme for most Virginians. There is also a libertarian candidate, Robert Sarvis, on the ballot who has cannibalized some of Cuccinelli’s support. In the lieutenant governor’s race, the Republican Party nominated someone even more radical than Cuccinelli in E.W. Jackson. Democrat Ralph Northam is likely to win in that one. The most competitive race in Virginia is for attorney general where Democrat Mark Herring and Republican Mark Obershain are neck and neck going into today.
Out in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie is set to win reelection over Democratic candidate Barbara Buono by a sizeable margin. Many commentators believe that Christie has spent the last few days aiming his message not at New Jersey residents, but at Republicans throughout the country in anticipation of a presidential run in 2016.
The most important race, though, is the Republican primary in Alabama’s First Congressional District, a special election after Rep. Jo Bonner took a job at the University of Alabama earlier this year. This race pits the establishment candidate Bradley Byrne against far right winger Dean Young. The winner of today’s primary will easily win the general election in this very red district and both men will likely have identical voting records in Congress.
Byrne, while still very conservative, is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the NRA and other business groups. On the other side, Young has received little support from Tea Party organizations throughout the country. Instead, he has focused his message entirely on social issues, particularly gay marriage, and has tried to out-conservative Byrne. Despite the disadvantage in money and national support, polls show that Young’s strategy may be working. Turnout is expected to be low since it’s a special election in an off-year, an advantage for Young whose extreme rhetoric will rally people to get out and vote.
The implications for this race stretch far beyond Alabama though. This is the chance for the moderate wing of the Republican Party to show that they can defeat a fringe candidate. As Mother Jones’s Tim Murphy points out, there are few, if any, actual policy differences between the two. Instead, this election is symbolic. This is a race that the establishment should win. There are so many things lining up in Byrne’s favor that a loss here will demonstrate what an uphill battle it is for the moderate wing of the party.
Murphy’s piece does a good job outlining Byrne’s advantages:
- He’s received more money and support than Young
- He has a solid conservative record
- Young was unable to name the House GOP Whip or Treasury Secretary (Seriously)
- Young is a birther
- Bonner and Jack Edwards, another former Congressman from AL01, endorsed Byrne
This should give Byrne a sizeable lead, but it hasn’t. The race is still very tight. Luckily for the GOP, nominating Young won’t risk losing the seat. The district is too conservative for that to happen. If Young loses, the Tea Party won’t be particularly upset. They realized that there was no purpose in getting involved in this battle as both Young and Byrne will vote the same in the House. All it does is risk an embarrassing defeat. Thus, Tea Party groups have not intervened at all (something Young is not happy about).
The establishment and business wing of the Republican Party thought differently though. They saw a way to defeat an extreme candidate and have made a sincere effort to do so. A victory would be a reminder that they can defeat conservative candidates, but it wouldn’t be much of a win. After all, the limited support Young has received means that the establishment is not really taking on the Tea Party here. They are taking on a radical candidate with almost no outside support. That makes a defeat very embarrassing. Is the establishment so inept that they can’t take a solid conservative candidate, provide him with generous donations and defeat a right-wing nutjob who can’t name the House GOP Whip? That would not be a good sign for the party’s ability to challenge more well-supported Tea Partiers in races next year.