- Associated Press - Saturday, July 5, 2014

ONEONTA, Ala. (AP) - On a sweltering summer evening, Paul DeMarco and Gary Palmer took to the stage in a half-filled high school auditorium to make their best pitches to Republican voters.

The themes were familiar ones in GOP campaigns. Palmer talked about the need to drill in a fossil-fuel-rich area of Colorado and Wyoming and said that the nation was at a constitutional crisis. DeMarco said the nation must balance its budget and noted that his infant son’s share of the national debt was already $60,000.

DeMarco, a lawyer and legislator, and conservative think tank founder Palmer meet in the July 15 Republican runoff for Alabama’s 6th Congressional District. The winner faces Democrat Avery Vise in November.

The district is considered one of the strongest leaning GOP districts in the country. The people who will make the decision could be relatively few with a paltry 5 percent turnout predicted by Secretary of State Jim Bennett.

“If people ever wondered if their vote counted, if you go vote in this one - it’s going to count,” Palmer said.

DeMarco is pointing to his legislative experience.

“Now more than ever, we need someone with the experience who can show up on day one to tackle the tough issues. I’ve got a track record in Montgomery of tackling tough legislative issues,” DeMarco said in an interview.

DeMarco is a graduate of Mountain Brook High School. He graduated from Auburn University and the University of Alabama law school.

DeMarco, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has been a member of the Alabama House of Representatives since 2005. He has sponsored legislation mandating that financially troubled Jefferson County hire a professional county manager.

“We’ve got to balance the budget. We’ve got to stop these overreaching regulations. We’ve got to get rid of this health care law that’s hurting our communities,” DeMarco said.

Neither runoff candidate has the fiery political brand seen in some GOP congressional primaries across the country. DeMarco has a Statehouse reputation for being thoughtful and choosing his words carefully when he speaks to reporters. Palmer acknowledges he is the policy wonk that has to occasionally be reminded to smile.

Palmer grew up in the north Alabama town of Hackleburg. His father, a logger, had an eighth-grade education. He graduated with a degree in operations management from the University of Alabama.

He quit a manufacturing job and founded a conservative leaning research group later renamed the Alabama Policy Institute “dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families.” The group is part of the national State Policy Network.

“My top priority is to restore constitutional government. I’m very concerned with what is going on with the abuses of the executive branch. That’s the bigger 30,000-foot view of things. On specific ideas, we’ve got to start getting out front on how we are going to replace Obamacare,” Palmer said.

Palmer was a player in the 1999 effort to defeat the state lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman.

Palmer said he did not know until years later that the Mississippi Band of Choctaws, a casino-operating tribe, had funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups fighting the lottery and a separate proposal to allow video poker machines at Alabama dog tracks.

“I told them from day one that if they took gambling money I would quit the campaign. I was adamant about it and I was tremendously disappointed when it came out,” Palmer said.

The Club for Growth, the anti-tax group that has become a national political force, has gotten behind Palmer after their initial pick, orthopedic surgeon Chad Mathis did not make the runoff. Palmer is also backed by former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and former primary opponents Scott Beason and Will Brooke.

DeMarco is endorsed by the National Rifle Association, Manufacture Alabama and all but one congressional district legislator.

DeMarco had been the early front-runner, dominating fundraising and taking a third of the vote in the June election.

However, his runoff campaign stumbled after what some called a shaky initial debate appearance and criticism that a Palmer-bashing ad went beyond the typical election season truth stretch.

DeMarco aired a television ad that criticized Palmer’s past statements that the state of Alabama needed more revenue.

The ad repeats a statement that Palmer made about Gov. Bob Riley’s 2003 proposed tax increase with Palmer saying, unlike some of his fellow conservatives, he believes the state needs more revenue. However, it doesn’t include the second half of the statement in which Palmer said there were not adequate accountability measures in Riley’s proposal for him to support it.

DeMarco defended the ad. “It pointed out that he would support tax increase under some circumstances,” he said.

Asked if it had become a tight race, DeMarco noted the dynamic of a low-turnout race. On a Thursday night, Palmer was headed off to a fundraiser and DeMarco to shake hands at an Independence Day festival at a Vestavia park.

“It’s a special election in July. It’s about getting out your vote,” DeMarco said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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