WASHINGTON — More than two dozen members of Congress have donated to Bradley Byrne in Tuesday's runoff in Alabama's 1st District, a bold move by Republican leadership to choose an establishment candidate over a tea party favorite.
Using their political action committees and campaign accounts, the members, including several GOP committee chairmen, have sent Byrne's campaign about $86,000 in just the last few days, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures.
Three members of Alabama's delegation are among the donors: Reps. Martha Roby of Montgomery, Mike Rogers of Saks and Mo Brooks of Huntsville.
Roby, who donated $2,500 from her political action committee, said she's encouraged colleagues to do the same.
"What Bradley did to take on corrupt political insiders in Montgomery showed he has the courage to do what's right and the wisdom to go about it in a smart way," she said. "We need leaders like that in Congress."
Officially, the campaign arm of the House Republican caucus doesn't get involved in primaries, but the outpouring of support for Byrne indicates a new willingness among establishment party members to get off the sidelines and influence which Republicans get nominated.
That support is yet another sign that the special election in southwestern Alabama is becoming a political bellwether for the tea party's status among Republicans since the partial government shutdown in October.
Byrne, a former state legislator and chancellor of the two-year college system, has emerged as the choice of the business community, winning endorsements from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and two previous holders of the 1st District seat, former Reps. Jack Edwards and Jo Bonner.
A Byrne campaign spokesman declined comment on the donations Friday.
Byrne's tea party opponent, Dean Young of Orange Beach, has campaigned as the anti-establishment choice and has vowed to be the Ted Cruz of the House. Cruz is the junior GOP senator from Texas who engineered the recent government shutdown to protest the 2010 federal health care law. The strategy failed, and Republicans took most of the blame.
"The last thing the mainstream conservatives in the House GOP caucus want to see is yet another reinforcement arriving on Capitol Hill for the tea party faction," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "Business has clearly decided to fight back lest the GOP fall further behind, and many of the GOP congressmen backing Byrne are allies of business."
No members of Congress have donated to Young, according to FEC filings.
Byrne's campaign has accepted $10,000 each from PACs affiliated with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan.
Other donors include PACs associated with Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the House Rules Committee; and Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
Rank-and-file Republicans also have gotten involved. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., donated $10,000 to Byrne from his leadership PAC, the GOP Generation Y Fund. And PACs for all three Republicans from nearby Mississippi — Reps. Gregg Harper, Steven Palazzo, and Alan Nunnelee — donated a total $9,500.
Efforts to reach Young on Friday for comment were unsuccessful.
While Byrne and Young have taken similar conservative positions on major issues, the race is increasingly defined by their opposing styles.
Byrne's advocates, including many who are helping raise money for him in Washington, say they are trying to avoid electing an obstructionist or an ideologue. Young, who gained fame in Alabama as a spokesman for the judge who defied a court order to remove the Ten Commandments from a state judicial building, focuses largely on social issues like gay marriage, and he makes his Christianity a staple of campaign speeches.
The winner of the Byrne-Young runoff on Tuesday will face Democrat Burton LeFlore in the special election in December. The seat came open when Bonner left Congress in August to become the lobbyist for the University of Alabama System. The district, where Republican Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama by 24 points, is strongly Republican.
Young's campaign is also attracting attention from the tea party nationally. A super PAC affiliated with Sharron Angle of Nevada, the tea party candidate who lost a 2010 Senate race, has spent about $65,000 backing Young's campaign so far, according to the latest tally by the Center for Responsive Politics.