Dean Young, a south Baldwin County Tea Party conservative who was trounced in congressional primaries against incumbent Jo Bonner in 2012, suddenly looks like a viable candidate less than one year later. Last night he finished second to moderate Republican candidate Bradley Byrne in a primary against seven other candidates, none of whom earned more than 50 percent of the vote. The seat was suddenly vacated by Bonner this summer when he accepted a $350,000 a year salary working in economic development for the University of Alabama Systems.
Byrne, a former state senator and chancellor of the two-year college system who had previously campaigned for governor, was considered an early favorite. As the evening ended, Byrne appeared to finish with 35 percent of the vote, compared to Young’s 23 percent. State Rep. Chad Fincher finished in third place with 16 percent of the vote followed by Quin Hillyer and Wells Griffith with 16 percent and 14 percent respectively. After a runoff Nov. 5, either Byrne or Young will meet Democrat Burton Leflore and Independent candidate James Hall in the general election Dec. 17.
As results were tabulated early, Byrne knew he had a solid lead. But it wasn’t until later that it became clear he would be in a runoff, and less than two hours after the polls had closed, he earned an endorsement from fourth-place finisher Quin Hillyer.
“Right now we know one thing for sure, we’re going to be first,” he said to a cheer from his supporters. “We don’t know who is second. This is the halftime though. We still have another half to play.”
Byrne, a native of Mobile and current Baldwin County resident, said throughout his campaign he wants to end government corruption, take control of spending, support traditional Alabama values, create jobs, cut taxes and “stop the radical Obama agenda.”
“I want to stand up for South Alabama,” he said, addressing a crowd at Ed’s Seafood Shed Tuesday evening. “This is a magic moment for the area and the congressman is important part of developing the area.”
While Byrne led the fundraising in the campaign with $317,000, he credited his first-place finish to his volunteers.
“Fundraising helped, but what really made a difference were the people who volunteered. In three days, they made 15,000 phone calls and in a race with a low turnout that is a big deal,” he said.
Young meanwhile, was in Foley celebrating his support alongside Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. He said the results were “what we expected,” but chalked up the runoff election in six weeks as being a clear decision.
“We were watching it pretty closely and it sets up a classic battle between an establishment Republican and a true conservative Republican,” he said. “I think it’ll be very clear the difference between the two candidates.”
Young said he ran on the same platform as a year ago and couldn’t perceive a problem overcoming Byrne’s fundraising advantage. Young brought in just $36,000 in individual contributions before Sept. 4, notwithstanding a $100,000 personal loan.
“We’ll do the same thing we’ve been doing and we’ve got the same message,” he said. “I’m a businessman that has come from poverty and we’ve got to stop the spiral that our country is on — not only the moral free-fall but the spending free-fall. We’ve got the situation where we continue to raise the debt ceiling which has to stop. We’ve got an army of grassroots supporters that are very energetic, very hardworking and our message will be more defined over the next six weeks.”
On the Democratic side, real estate businessman Burton Leflore bested retiree Lula Albert-Kaigler 70 to 30 percent. Leflore reiterated his understanding of being an underdog in a heavily Republican district, but said his own moderate stance coupled with a disenfranchisement among Republicans may benefit his own campaign.
“We have a lot of work to do but I think this race is winnable,” he said. “I’m willing to put in the work and get the campaign together and raise money to get our message out. I characterize myself as a conservative Democrat, but I think in the total picture people would consider me a moderate. I’m certainly not ultra-liberal but also not as conservative as my Tea Party opponents. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who don’t consider themselves either Republican or Democrat, they just vote for candidate that appeals to them they tell me. And I tell them I have something to offer.”
Katie Nichols contributed to this story.