Yesterday’s “mini-Tuesday” runoffs in Alabama and North Carolina included one GOP House contest in each state, to choose a replacement for retiring veteran congressmen (Spencer Bachus in AL, Howard Coble in NC). In both cases, there was a heavy early favorite coming from the local branches of the Republican Establishment (State Rep. Paul DeMarco in AL-06, Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger, Jr., in NC-06), knocked into runoffs by a large field.
Last night both Establishment figures were routed. In the bigger upset, in NC, Southern Baptist minister Mark Walker beat Berger 60-40. This was a race where Berger’s father, the president pro tem of the state legislature, became an issue, particularly after he seemed to have steered funds from the national Republican State Leadership Committee—which normally is involved only in state legislative contests—into his son’s campaign. In Alabama, DeMarco was beaten nearly two-to-one by Gary Palmer, the long-time head of the local affiliate of the Koch-funded State Policy Network of right-wing think tanks. Palmer benefited from a pretty big investment of negative ads against DeMarco from the Club for Growth.
The Alabama district is among the most heavily red in the country, but Walker’s win in NC-06 (which gave Romney 58% of its vote in 2012) could theoretically make Democratic candidate Laura Fjeld viable.
I think we’re probably past the point when anyone thinks there’s some sort of “Republican Establishment crushes Tea Party” narrative for this cycle of GOP primaries, at least since Eric Cantor’s defeat. But if anyone’s still keeping store, mark up two more wins for the self-proclaimed “constitutional conservatives.” And they have clearly established candidates in three GOP House runoffs in Georgia next week (“Dr. Bob” Johnson in GA-01, Rev. Jody Hice in GA-10, and Barry Loudermilk in GA-11).
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