“If [20-year Rep.] Spencer Bachus gets by the Republican primary Tuesday with 50 percent [of the vote] plus one, he’s fine,” former Alabama GOP Chairman Marty Connors told HUMAN EVENTS Friday evening, “But if he gets under fifty percent and has to go into a run-off, all bets are off on who wins.”
Connors knows what he’s talking about. Back in 1992, he and then-State Sen. Bachus were the top two vote-getters in the Republican primary in the Birmingham-based Sixth District. Bachus won the runoff against Connors, and then went on to unseat Democratic Rep. Ben Erdreich. He has never had much trouble winning—that is, until now.
At 65, and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Bachus has recently come under scrutiny for his record of stock and option trades (including during the 2008 financial crisis) and faces widespread accusations of insider trading. Most significantly, the same Committee for Public Accountability “SuperPAC” that fired the salvos that helped bring down Rep. Jean Schmidt in Ohio’s Republican primary last week has announced it is now gunning for Bachus.
On Tuesday, the veteran lawmaker will face three GOP opponents: State Sen. Scott Beason, Blount County Judge David Standridge, and pharmacist Al Mickle. By all accounts, Beason—famed for killing an occupation tax in Jefferson County (Birmingham) and for arranging to wiretap himself in a gambling and bribery case (he was exonerated)—is the candidate likeliest to come in second to Bachus. Should no one get 50 percent of the vote plus one, the two top vote-getters will meet in a run-off April 24.
Historically, runoffs in the South work against incumbents, with the candidates who fell further behind usually rallying to the second-place finisher. In South Carolina’s 4th District, for example, veteran GOP Rep. Bob Inglis was forced into a run-off in 2010 with runner-up Trey Gowdy, who rallied supporters of the other contenders in the initial race and went on to wallop Inglis with more than 70 per cent of the vote.
A defeat of a veteran incumbent such as Bachus—scandal or none—will surely cause nervousness among many sitting GOP lawmakers this year. As it was in Ohio’s 2nd District when tea partiers backed Schmidt’s opponent, incumbents seen as part of the GOP establishment and defying the tea party on issues from Wall Street bailouts to raising the debt ceiling are likely to have targets on their backs. And any whiff of scandal, be it Bachus’ stock trading or Schmidt’s payment of legal bills by an outside group, will make it harder for incumbents to survive.
Not all Alabama Republicans are sure at this point that Bachus won’t survive. Marty Connors noted that Bachus has more than $1 million to spend on the campaign and that as chairman of the Financial Services Committee; he is well-thought of in the 6th District’s business community.
But when asked if Bachus can be forced into a runoff and lose, Connors’ reply was: “Sure.”