Former state Sen. Bradley Byrne defeated tea-party-backed candidate Dean Young in a special GOP runoff in Alabama’s 1st District on Tuesday, marking the first big win for more moderate Republicans in the fight for control of the GOP since the government shutdown. [...] The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business-oriented groups, such as TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts’ Ending Spending PAC, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the final days of the contest to ensure a Byrne victory.A win is a win, but this seems like a case of excessive celebration. Consider:
The win sends a message to the tea party that business groups are willing to play in GOP primaries to send more pragmatic, business-minded Republicans to Congress.
- Byrne, the establishment candidate, defeated Young, the tea partier, by just 5 points, 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent.
- As of Oct. 16, Byrne had raised nearly four-times as much as Young, a $500,000 advantage.
- Byrne benefited from about $300,000 in spending from outside groups, all of which came in the last month of the campaign, while Young received just $65,000 (just $25,000 of which came in the last month) and got zero support from national tea party groups like Club for Growth or American for Prosperity.
- Byrne had previously held office while Young was a political neophyte.
- One reason the Ted Cruzes and Sarah Palins of the world wanted nothing to do with Young is that he was such an extreme lunatic that he almost made them look reasonable by comparison. Case in point: Young actually said during the campaign that he believed President Obama was born in Kenya.
So Bradley Byrne and the GOP establishment vastly outspent a candidate who was so extreme that he couldn't even win the backing of national tea party groups and yet managed to win by just five points. From their perspective, that's certainly better than losing, but the lesson here isn't that Republicans have finally figured out how to tame the tea party, it's that they didn't have the confidence to challenge the tea party until they found an opponent who was so nuts that not even the tea party wanted to associate itself with him—and that even then, they still almost lost.