MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The Republican establishment put its money and its clout behind Bradley Byrne and came out a winner in Alabama's 1st Congressional District.
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting Tuesday night, Byrne won the Republican runoff with 52.5 percent of the vote while tea party supporter Dean Young drew 47.5 percent.
Young said he had a strong grassroots campaign, but he couldn't overcome the money the GOP establishment put behind Byrne. "It gives the Republican establishment a notch on their belt because they did what they said they would do," Young said.
Byrne said the voters were more interested in performance than labels. "The voters were looking for the person who would be the most conservative advocate in Washington," he said.
Byrne advances to the general election Dec. 17 against Mobile real estate agent Burton Leflore. He has raised 1 percent as much money as Byrne has in a district that has elected Republicans to Congress since 1964.
Byrne said that doesn't matter. "We are going to take him seriously," he said.
The Republican runoff presented a classic clash between the two sides of the Republican Party.
Byrne, a 58-year-old Fairhope attorney, led a field of nine in the September primary. He raised more than twice as much campaign money as Young and ran with the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, more than two dozen members of Congress, and two men who previously held the 1st District office, Jo Bonner and Jack Edwards.
Byrne, a former state senator and state school board member, campaigned on his work as chancellor of Alabama's two-year college system, where he restored credibility after a corruption scandal that sent a previous chancellor to prison.
Young, a 49-year-old Orange Beach businessman, ran an outsider campaign, aligning himself with the tea party and drawing praise from Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. Young played key roles in Moore's two elections, both against better-funded candidates backed by the business community and Republican establishment.
Byrne and Young differed little on the issues, but were miles apart in style. Byrne has the reserved style of the junior college chancellor he used to be and describes himself as a "conservative reformer."
Young labeled himself a "constitutional conservative" and presented a blistering style, particularly when criticizing the president.
During the campaign, Byrne called Young an extremist who "would be an embarrassment to the Republican Party." Young said Byrne is a "go-along, get-along" former Democrat who would give the southwest Alabama district the same representation it has had for 50 years.
On Tuesday night, Young said he didn't get the financial help from national tea party groups that he had hoped. "They pretty much abandoned this race," he said.
Byrne took it as a compliment. "They looked at us and saw we were equally conservative," he said.
Young ran strong in rural parts of the district, but Byrne carried heavily populated Baldwin and Mobile counties. The voter turnout of 16.7 percent was higher than the primary.
The congressional office came open in August when Bonner resigned to work for the University of Alabama System.