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Voters reject Tea Party candidate in Alabama

By The Associated Press
July 14, 2010

Rich Barber (left) loses to Martha Roby (right) in Alabama

A mainstream Republican rolled past a tea party activist Tuesday in the GOP runoff for a southeast Alabama congressional seat that Republicans hope to reclaim.

Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby was drawing 60 percent in the unofficial count in the 2nd Congressional District GOP runoff Tuesday against Rick Barber, a former Marine who operates a Montgomery pool hall that hosts tea party meetings.

Roby will face conservative Democratic U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright in the fall. Bright’s win in 2008 marked the first time the GOP had lost the seat since 1964.

In other races, self-described outsider state Rep. Robert Bentley won the Republican runoff for governor against establishment figure Bradley Byrne, a former two-year college system chancellor. Bentley, a retired Tuscaloosa physician, spoke with some tea party groups but was generally seen as a moderate willing to work with Democrats.

Bentley faces the Democratic nominee, State Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, in November. Because of term limits, Republican Gov. Bob Riley could not seek a third term.

In the state’s 7th District, Terri Sewell, a Harvard-educated lawyer from Birmingham, likely will be the first black woman elected to Congress from Alabama. She won a Democratic runoff Tuesday in a solidly Democratic district and will face Republican Don Chamberlain of Selma in November.

In the 2nd District, Roby, 34, promised to bring “common sense conservative values” to Congress. But Barber, 35, who has no political track record, described her as a “status quo” candidate, the daughter of a federal judge appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

Roby nearly won the June 1 primary outright but fell slightly short of a majority in the four-candidate field.

Election officials described the turnout as light, with most participation in the Republican runoff, where the race for governor — a matchup of outsider versus establishment — drew the most attention.

Bentley, 67, was making his first statewide race and was considered a little-known state legislator in a field of seven hopefuls when he made a surprise second-place finish in the primary June 1.

The largely self-funded candidate said voters began to notice him when he pledged to serve without pay until Alabama’s near-record unemployment rate drops to normal levels. Then the reassuring bedside manner of a doctor took over as Bentley talked about creating jobs.

“The key to the success of this is our ability to communicate,” Bentley said.

Byrne, a 55-year-old lawyer, had the financial support of business interests and the backing of top Republican officials, including the governor.

William Stewart, retired chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama, said voters perceived Byrne as the choice of the GOP elite, and that hurt in a year when voters are in an anti-incumbent mood.

“Bentley was perceived as the candidate of the average man and woman,” Stewart said.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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