No Surprises in Alabama and Mississippi Primaries

by Jessica Taylor March 14, 2012 · 5:20 PM EDT

The supposed anti-incumbent wave that started last week in Ohio stopped on Tuesday in the heart of Dixie.

While five incumbents faced varying degrees of primary challenges in Alabama and Mississippi, each turned away their intraparty challenge with relative ease and avoided runoffs. All occupy safe seats ahead of this fall’s elections.

In Alabama’s 6th District, Financial Services Chairman Spencer Bachus had the most closely-watched challenge, after the ten-term Republican faced an ethics investigation over alleged insider trading in the critical closing weeks of the race.

But despite a super PAC’s efforts to aid his upstart challenger, state Sen. Scott Beason, Bachus prevailed with 59 percent of the vote in the six-way primary. Beason took 27 percent. Still, it was Bachus’s lowest primary showing of his career, never having fallen below 71 percent since he was first elected in 1992.

The Campaign for Primary Accountability, which claimed credit for GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt’s surprising loss in last week’s Ohio primary to little-known podiatrist Brad Wenstrup, had put over $200,000 into the Alabama race, slamming Bachus on television and direct mail.

Even some GOP strategists privately said Tuesday that they expected Bachus to fall below 50 percent and be forced into a one-on-one runoff with Beason, where they believed the situation could deteriorate quickly for the incumbent against the legislator, who was the chief sponsor of the state’s controversial immigration law.

The anti-incumbent group had also spent over $120,000 targeting House Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner in his four-way primary, hitting him over his debt ceiling vote. Ultimately, Bonner took 56 percent of the vote in the 1st District GOP race, with wealthy businessman Dean Young, who put almost $200,000 of his own money into the race, taking about a quarter of the vote. Bonner took his primary challenge seriously, running TV ads featuring his wife.

In the 5th District, former Rep. Parker Griffith, who was elected as a Democrat in 2008 but switched to the GOP in December 2009, lost his comeback bid against freshman Rep. Mo Brooks, who defeated him in the 2010 Republican primary. Brooks easily dispatched Griffith a second time on Tuesday, taking over 70 percent of the vote—nearly identical to a January internal poll the congressman had released. Two years ago, Brooks narrowly edged then-incumbent Griffith, 51 percent to 33 percent, to avoid a runoff.

In Mississippi’s 4th District, freshman Rep. Steven Palazzo took 74 percent of the vote, defeating two little-funded tea party candidates. Plagued by bad headlines over a wild party his staff had in Annapolis and improperly giving his wife his accounting business, Palazzo had once been considered vulnerable to a primary challenge, but party leaders in the Magnolia State were effective at squashing that possibility for the freshman before the filing deadline.

In the 1st District, Rep. Alan Nunnelee again turned away former Europa Mayor Henry Ross in the GOP primary, taking 57 percent of the vote to Ross’s 29 percent, while businessman Robert Estes claimed the remaining 14 percent. Two years ago, Ross finished second against Nunnelee, then for the right to take on Democratic Rep. Travis Childers. Nunnelee narrowly built on his then-showing, where he took 52 percent to Ross’s 33 percent.

In the one closely-watched Democratic primary, Rep. Bennie Thompson beat Greenville Mayor Heather McTeer with 87 percent of the vote. Thompson vastly outspent McTeer, $687,000 to her $139,000 and local Democrats said she was simply out of her league in trying to unseat the longtime Democrat.

Through the first three states of the cycle, 26 of 28 incumbents have been renominated, with Schmidt losing to her GOP challenger and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich losing to fellow Rep. Marcy Kaptur in an incumbent-incumbent primary due to redistricting.