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6 things to consider with one week to go in the AL-01 primary

Alabama First Congressional District

1. All signs point to a runoff

Bradley Byrne’s name recognition in the First District is somewhere around 75%, which dwarfs the competition in this race. Unless something bizarre happens in the next seven days, he’ll finish first in the Republican primary set to take place Tuesday, Sept. 24.

There is a sense, though, that Byrne has not convinced a majority of voters that he’s the rock-ribbed conservative they want to send to Congress. Fortunately for him, voters have not to this point coalesced around an alternative candidate.

That makes this GOP primary a fierce race for second between Chad Fincher, Wells Griffith, Quin Hillyer and Dean Young — the four candidates besides Byrne with the resources left to make a strong push to the finish line.

2. Hillyer will be filling a big void on radio this week

Former GOP Presidential contender Rick Santorum recently recorded a radio spot in support of Quin Hillyer’s candidacy. Citizens United Political Victory Fund promptly put up $25,000 to air it the final ten days of the primary.

In addition to a strong television ad buy, it looks like Hillyer will be the only candidate with a massive presence on radio over the next week.

Television stations will be flooded with well over $100,000 in ads over the next seven days. Hillyer has a chance to own the radio airwaves in a big way. If he makes it into the runoff, we’ll know it paid off.

Here’s how much the candidates are expected to spend on television ads during the final week of the campaign, in order from most to least:

Byrne: $50,000-$55,000 (It’s worth noting that Byrne is the only candidate really planning on “leaving some in the tank” for the runoff.)
Young: $20,000-$25,000
Hillyer: $15,000-$20,000
Griffith: $10,000-$15,000
Fincher: $10,000

3. Dean Young is counting on Roy Moore voters to turnout big

First Congressional District voters have over the last few weeks been inundated with robocalls asking them if they have a favorable or unfavorable view of Chief Justice Roy Moore. The Dean Young campaign is believed to be using these calls to build a database of Moore supporters, who they believe are likely to also be supporting Young, so they can make sure they come to the polls on election day.

Moore surprised a lot of people (including me) by making it to 50% in the three-way Republican primary for Chief Justice last year. Most expected him to come in first but fall well short of the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff. If Young can similarly turn out Moore’s supporters next week, he’s got a good shot at making it into the runoff against Byrne.

4. Whoever wins is doing it relatively cheaply

In 2012, the average incoming House freshman raised $1.9 million and spent $1.7 million to win their seat.

The total amount of money raised by all candidates in the AL-01 Republican primary as of Sept. 4 (the last reporting deadline) was under $800,000.

The condensed timeframe of the special election certainly lowers the cost of the race. Several campaigns have also mentioned that Mobile mayor-elect Sandy Stimpson’s massive $1.5 million fundraising haul has had an impact on donors’ resources.

Regardless, whoever wins in AL-01 is getting into Congress on the cheap compared to most of their future colleagues.

5. Griffith has a chance to pull a rabbit out of his hat

Of all the candidates in this race, Wells Griffith has the most national-level connections that might jump in during the last week of the campaign and deliver a flurry of free media attention for his candidacy.

Will former GOP Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan fly into the district for an event? Or former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour?

Griffith launched his campaign on July 18, a good bit later than most of the other candidates. He’s expected to make a strong push on television during the last week, but a big free media hit just as casual voters start paying attention to this race would be a major boost for him.

6. Geography matters

Five and a half counties make up the First Congressional District. 50% of the vote will come from Mobile County, 40% from Baldwin, 5% from Escambia and the remaining 5% from rural areas in Monroe, Washington and the southern part of Clarke.

There probably won’t be a huge turnout differential between Baldwin and Mobile. Griffith is expected to be strong in the Spring Hill and Midtown areas, because his family lives in Spring Hill — but so does Hillyer.

Fincher is counting on a boost in rural areas from his Forestry Association endorsement. That could be a difference maker if getting into the runoff or not comes down to a few hundred votes.

Byrne and Young are the two candidates who transcend their regional base — Byrne by virtue of his high name-ID, and Young because he’s going hard after the evangelical base as Roy Moore’s guy.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims