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Alabama congressman wins primary despite 'super PAC' offensive

March 14, 2012|By Kim Geiger
  • U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus thanks supporters at Rosewood Hall in Homewood, Ala. Bachus wins his toughest primary fight in years, defeating three challengers despite an ethics probe in Washington.
U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus thanks supporters at Rosewood Hall in Homewood,… (Tamika Moore / Birmingham…)

Reporting from Washington — Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus won the Republican nomination for the seat he has represented in Congress for 20 years, beating back three primary challengers and an anti-incumbent "super PAC."

The primary victory almost certainly assures him another term. But the narrowness with which he won – Bachus had 59% of the vote with 87% of precincts reporting, compared with the 76% he claimed in the 2010 primary – suggests that the campaign against him, coupled with allegations that he engaged in insider trading, has bruised his standing with voters.

Bachus’ victory is also a blow to the Campaign for Primary Accountability, the super PAC that spent about $322,000 targeting Bachus and fellow Alabama congressman Jo Bonner, who also won his primary Tuesday.

That’s a tiny sum compared with the $1.5 million spent by Bachus, at least some of which went to defend against ads that portrayed one of his challengers, state Sen. Scott Beason, as the “true conservative” in the race. Still, Bachus cast himself as something of an underdog.

“We overcame a lot of big money,” Bachus told Reuters. “They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars distorting my record, but the voters of the 6th District district didn’t go for it.”

The “super PAC” trained its sights on Bachus after deeming him an incumbent who could be vulnerable in a primary challenge.

Bachus is so far one of five Republican and three Democratic incumbents to be targeted by the Texas-based super PAC Campaign for Primary Accountability, a group that identifies itself as “transpartisan” and “non ideological,” according to PAC spokesman Curtis Ellis.

Ellis calls the super PAC an “equalizer” because it boosts primary challengers to powerful incumbents whose districts are so reliably partisan that they would easily win a general election.

“Our final goal is to make Congress more responsive to the people,” Ellis said. “And the way we do that is when they know they are going to have to face the voters in a competitive environment.”

The committee only targets incumbents who face a viable challenger and whose constituents seem unhappy, Ellis said.

“If the incumbent is popular and people are happy with their representation in Congress, we feel that the system is working as it should, and we don’t get involved,” Ellis said.

The super PAC played at least some part in toppling Ohio Rep. Jean Schmidt, a Republican, in her primary last week. It also backed Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich over Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, both Democratic incumbents who were, due to redistricting, fighting over a single congressional seat.

Ellis said the super PAC chose to back Kucinich because he was “the more independent voice.” Kaptur prevailed.

In Bachus’ suburban Birmingham district, the super PAC conducted a poll that found that Bachus was popular – he had 63% support – until voters were read statements connecting him to Wall Street. Then his support plummeted to 44%.  

The super PAC spent about $200,000 advertising against him, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It spent another $122,000 advertising against Bonner.

Bachus and Bonner both won, but by smaller margins than they had enjoyed in past primaries.

“We succeeded in making two primaries more competitive on Tuesday,” Ellis said. “Mr. Bachus and Mr. Bonner could not take their reelection for granted as they did in years past.”

Turning to the upcoming primary in Pennsylvania, the super PAC is targeting Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican, and Rep. Tim Holden, a Democrat.

Ala. congressman survives primary despite 'super PAC'  offensive

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