Republican heavy favorite in Alabama special congressional election

By Kaija Wilkinson

MOBILE, Alabama (Reuters) - Voters in southwest Alabama are expected to elect a business-backed former Republican state senator on Tuesday in a special election to fill a congressional seat that no Democrat has held in nearly 50 years.

Attorney Bradley Byrne, 58, defeated a Tea Party rival last month in a close primary race in Alabama's 1st congressional district which highlighted the intraparty tensions between the Republican Party's establishment and more ideological wing that emerged after the government shutdown.

Byrne, whose $1.1 million campaign is backed by big corporate donors, including Home Depot and Wal-Mart, is running against Democrat Burton LeFlore, a candidate who has raised only about $7,000, according to campaign finance reports.

The special election is being held after Congressman Jo Bonner, after a decade of service, announced his resignation in May to take a job at the University of Alabama. Bonner is one of three consecutive Republicans who have held the seat since 1965.

The 1st congressional district includes Mobile, Alabama's third largest city after Birmingham and Montgomery, the state capital.

A victory would return Byrne, a former college chancellor and state school board member, to public office. He served as state senator from 2002 to 2010, when he ran unsuccessfully in the Republican gubernatorial primary won by current Governor Robert Bentley.

LeFlore, a real estate agent, is the grandson of Mobile civil rights leader and state representative John LeFlore.

Byrne's campaign has also won endorsements from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association and the National Right to Life Committee, while Democratic national organizations have largely stayed out of the race.

Byrne describes himself as a fiscal conservative who favors small government. He has campaigned in part against President Barack Obama's health-care law, which LeFlore supports while saying some minor tweaks are needed. LeFlore has also called for cuts in military spending.

Analysts say the election is likely to see low voter turnout.

The winner will be in office for less than a year, as the seat will be contested again during the 2014 congressional elections.

(Reporting by Kaija Wilkinson; Writing by Kevin Gray; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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