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Alabama Special Election Is Proxy Battle for National GOP

With one day until the special-election runoff in Alabama’s 1st District, conservative groups are making a final push to affect the GOP contest that has become a national bellwether for Republicans.

Business groups are trying to boost former state Sen. Bradley Byrne over Dean Young, a tea-party-backed businessman who’s already made some controversial comments. Over the weekend, Ending Spending Inc., a PAC launched in 2010 by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, spent $102,000 in ads to promote Byrne, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

“Who can you trust with your money? Career politician Dean Young started numerous PACs, then paid most of the money raised to his own company,” says the ad.

This election marks business groups’ first effort to wade into a primary since the government shutdown last month. Many Republicans, including business leaders, blame the GOP’s most conservative, tea-party-aligned wing for causing the shutdown.

Young has run multiple unsuccessful political bids, including a failed 2012 primary challenge to former Rep. Jo Bonner. The congressman resigned this summer to take a job with the University of Alabama System, sparking this special election.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — which endorsed Byrne over Young last week — spent an additional $14,280 over the weekend to help Byrne. That brings the group’s total spending in this race to $199,280 in the final week of the contest.

The chamber’s national political director, Rob Engstrom, opened the door last week to more spending in GOP primaries, such as this one, to help elect more business-friendly Republicans to the House.

Young, an outspoken social conservative who is vehemently opposed to homosexuality and compared his views to those of Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, only received one burst of spending from an outside group in the final week of the contest: A $10,455 TV ad from Our Voice PAC, a super PAC launched by failed Nevada Senate nominee Sharron Angle.

Tuesday’s runoff is expected to be a close race.  Byrne has raised the most money and received the support of major groups such as the chamber, the National Rifle Association and the last two congressmen from the district.  But local Repubicans argue that Young’s base of evangelical social conservatives is motivated to head to the polls.

Whichever Republican emerges from the runoff is all but certain to defeat Democratic nominee Burton LeFlore in the Dec. 17 special election. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried the district with 62 percent in 2012.

Alabama’s 1st District is rated a Safe Republican contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.

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