Several weeks ago I wrote a column here on the congressional candidacy of conservative state think-tank pioneer Gary Palmer in what several news reports have called the most Republican district in the country. (It’s not really the most Republican, but it’s close.) The district consists mostly of suburbs of Birmingham, Ala. I wrote that Palmer could be that rare House member who becomes a national leader right away, as a freshman.
Now comes Fred Barnes at The Weekly Standard to say much the same, calling Palmer “a conservative candidate of character, conviction, knowledge and leadership.”
The lay of the land is this: The race is tightly bunched, with Palmer one of the five candidates (of seven total) at least within striking distance of making a runoff. But while several of the other candidates are sniping nastily at each other, Palmer is running on a solely positive message. One candidate, scorched-earth conservative Chad Mathis, has run such a negative campaign that another, establishmentarian Will Brooke (former chairman of the Business Council of Alabama), has challenged him to a one-on-one debate over Mathis’s allegations and those from an outside group backing Mathis. Brooke, for his part, has gone negative against another establishment choice, longtime state legislator Paul DeMarco. Another front-runner, showy conservative legislator Scott Beason, might be this race’s Todd Akin: Among several other controversies, he is most famous for being caught on tape referring disparagingly to black Alabamians as “aborigines.”
Palmer, meanwhile, just goes about his business with positive ads. One recent poll has him in fifth of the main group. But there’s precedent in Alabama for candidates making a closing rush by being the “nice guy” in the race as other candidates tear each other limb from limb. In a four-way Republican primary for governor in 2010, state representative Robert Bentley was running well behind while front-runners Bradley Byrne and Tim James savaged each other in televised debates. Bentley just kept smiling and reminding people that he had been a doctor (a dermatologist) and friend to the late coach Bear Bryant. Bentley barely edged James for the second runoff spot, and then trounced Byrne for the nomination and swept to the governorship in the fall.
The first primary is on June 3. It promises to be a barn burner.