During the last several days leading up to last week’s special election Republican primary to see who will eventually fill the seat vacated by Jo Bonner earlier this year, some political watchers and commentators were doubting Orange Beach businessman Dean Young’s chances to make a runoff against the favorite, former Alabama Community College Chancellor Bradley Byrne.
Montgomery-based political firm Cygnal put out a poll five days before the election that had Young with around just 12 percent of the vote. Internal polling from at least one of the candidates’ campaigns tended to suggest the same: that enthusiasm for Young had waned.
Chad Fincher had a strong showing in that Cygnal poll. Quin Hillyer was saturating the airwaves with ads. And even though the Wells Griffith effort never quite caught on, it was hard to discount him as well because he had surrounded himself with some very experienced people.
When the voters actually took to the polls and voted, it was Byrne first as predicted, but coming in second was Young… and it wasn’t even close. Young topped third-place Fincher by nearly 4,000 votes in last week’s low-turnout election.
One reason to consider for Young’s electoral success — The Roy Moore factor.
Featured prominently on Young’s campaign site is a copy of a letter from Moore praising Young, who was once a spokesman and a fundraiser for Moore. In that letter — written on Supreme Court of Alabama letterhead — Moore lauds Young for making a bid for Congress. Although Moore explained in the letter that he cannot endorse candidates for public office, it’s apparent Moore thinks highly of Young.
“While I cannot endorse candidates for public office because of my position as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, I want to take this opportunity to commend you on your willingness to serve our state and our nation at this critical time,” Moore wrote. “Your courage and commitment to faith, family and freedom will be refreshing in Washington, D.C. May God grant you favor and bless you as you seek to serve Him and the people of Alabama.”
And in case those words were not clear where he stood, Moore was also at Dean Young’s victory gathering in Foley on election night last week.
So what is Moore’s appeal?
Obviously Roy Moore’s claim to fame is his 2003 stand against a court order to have a Ten Commandments monument removed from the Alabama Supreme Court rotunda. Defying that order ultimately cost him the bench, but it also made him a household name.
In the eyes of some Alabamians, it elevated Moore to what seems like a folk hero status, not so much because he took a stand for the Ten Commandments, but that he took the stand at all against “the man.” Thus, while those antics may make some cringe — for others, supporting Moore is an expression of that defiance of authority.
In 2006, when Alabamians were first given the opportunity to write in a candidate for public office, Moore, who was out of office at the time, was a more popular write-in for some offices around the state than NBA star Charles Barkley.
Then last year, Moore reclaimed the state’s highest bench in a tight general election against Robert Vance after having defeated Mobile native Charles Graddick and the incumbent Chuck Malone by a convincing margin in the Republican primary earlier in the year.
While voters who subscribe to the “Book of Moore” don’t necessarily outnumber other factions within the Republican Party at a statewide level (shown by Moore’s failed bids for Alabama governor), the enthusiasm they display is tough to beat and in what could be a low-turnout runoff election in November is something his opponent’s campaign, Bradley Byrne, better not take lightly — even if polling doesn’t show Young to be much of threat.
Obviously the polling was wrong in the primary, with the one aforementioned Cygnal poll being almost within the margin of error of all the other hopefuls vote percentages in last week’s election but had missed Young’s outcome by over 10 percent.
“The Moore factor is real,” Cygnal managing partner Brent Buchanan wrote in a tweet reacting to last week’s vote totals. “Traditional GOP primary voters these folks are not. Do they have phone numbers? Not sure at this point.”
Buchanan seemed to be referencing Young’s strength in the rural parts of the first congressional district. A quick glance at the results suggests that’s where Young’s strength was and will be in the upcoming runoff, and those rural areas are places where polling isn’t necessarily an accurate indicator.
Up until now, this campaign cycle hasn’t seen a deluge of negative advertising. If that changes and voters are forced to relive the tales of elections past where they are reminded Byrne once was a Democrat and supported Bill Clinton, as was done in Byrne’s 2010 bid for Alabama governor, then Young could set himself up as the anti-establishment/Tea Party candidate.
And if national events take a turn to where the sentiment against President Barack Obama and the federal government approach 2009 levels where the actual Tea Party protests come back en vogue, Young will find himself flanked by Roy Moore, who would be heralded as an individual who knows about the strong arm of the federal government taking action and circumventing the will of the Alabama people.
A word to the wise: Don’t blow off Dean Young, especially if Roy Moore remains involved in the campaign.
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