- Associated Press - Friday, June 6, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - State legislator Paul DeMarco and policy analyst Gary Palmer will meet in a high-stakes runoff on July 15 for the GOP nomination in one of the nation’s most reliably Republican congressional districts.

DeMarco, an early favorite for the nomination, was by far the top vote-getter in the crowded primary field for the 6th District, taking a third of the total vote. However, the third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishers collectively netted 44 percent, potentially putting many votes up for grabs when voters head to the polls.

“It’s a new election,” said Natalie Davis, a pollster and political science professor at Birmingham-Southern College.

The race will pit DeMarco, who was considered an early favorite in the race, against Palmer, who was far less known to voters at the start of the election season. While DeMarco stresses his experience in office, Palmer contends voters are looking for something new.

“I’ve got proven conservative leadership,” said DeMarco, 46.

DeMarco, an attorney, has been a member of the Alabama House of Representatives since 2005. He is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and sponsored 2009 legislation mandating that financially troubled Jefferson County hire a professional county manager.

“I’m fiscally conservative, socially conservative. I’ve got the track record, so it’s not just talk,” he said. “With all the problems in Washington right now, they want someone who on Day One can tackle the tough issues.”

Palmer, 59, is the founder of the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative-leaning research group. He was active in the 1999 effort to defeat the state lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman.

“I think there’s a huge anti-incumbency feel out there,” Palmer said. “They want somebody different. At the same time, they don’t want just anybody different. They want somebody who has solutions.”

Palmer bested tea party favorites state Sen. Scott Beason and orthopedic surgeon Chad Mathis, who drew from the same voter pool and finished third and fourth, respectively.

Beason said while the other candidates were fighting each other all around, “Palmer ran up the middle” to win the runoff slot. He said both DeMarco and Palmer have called seeking his endorsement but he hasn’t decided what he will do.

“I said early on that Gary Palmer was the guy to watch,” Davis said, adding that she didn’t think many people believed her.

Davis said Palmer’s two decades of working in conservative politics have given him valuable connections and voter and donor lists.

Bill Stewart, former chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama, said DeMarco is the heavy favorite heading into runoff day.

“I’d certainly rather be in his position than Palmer’s,” Stewart said.

The runoff victor could be decided by relatively few voters. Secretary of State Jim Bennett has predicted a miniscule 5 percent turnout for the runoff.

The winner will face Democrat Avery Vise in the Nov. 4 election.

Davis said with so few voters coming to the polls, candidates will have to depend on a ground game of rallying loyal supporters. She said that could boost Palmer.

DeMarco is known for excelling at retail politics, showing up at school and community events in his district, Stewart said.

“It’ll be fun to watch,” Davis said.

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