12:57 p.m. CORRECTION: The previous version of this post incorrectly identified Scott Beason's elected position. He is a state senator.
A new primary poll from Alabama's 6th District shows Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus ahead in the first leg of his reelection race. But the poll also reveals the House Financial Services Committee chairman's vulnerability to his banking industry connections and recent insider trading allegations.
Bachus leads his closest Republican challenger 63 percent to 17 percent, according to the survey conducted on behalf of the Campaign for Primary Accountability, an anti-incumbent super PAC. Yet a follow-up question suggests Bachus's support is soft one month before Alabamans go to the polls.
Days before an ethics investigation into possible insider trading offenses by Bachus hit the headlines, callers read two statements to poll respondents about the veteran congressman, highlighting his connections to Wall Street. After respondents heard those statements, Bachus's primary support dropped under the halfway mark, to 44 percent, while GOP state Sen. Scott Beason bumped up to 21 percent, with 23 percent undecided. The statements:
-- Spencer Bachus used millions of dollars from Wall Street to give lavish donations to other Members of Congress and buy his way into the Chairmanship of the House Committee on Financial Services where he will regulate the same Wall Street banks that gave him the money.
-- Spencer Bachus has taken more than four-hundred and twelve thousand dollars in campaign donations from banks and other institutions that took billions of dollars in taxpayer money through the bailouts Bachus helped to pass.
The drop in Bachus's numbers after respondents heard those statements does not represent the current state of the race, but it is a successful message test for his opposition. The insider trading investigation was not specifically tested in the statements -- the poll was conducted before news of the ethics investigation broke -- but it hardly matters. Replacing the allegation that Bachus enriched his campaign account via banking connections with the allegation that he enriched himself won't do Bachus any favors as the Republican primary enters its stretch run.
Bachus also has at least one primary challenger, Beason, well poised to take him on from the populist right. Beason authored an Arizona-style state immigration law last year that won praise from conservatives.
The question is whether Beason can turn his conservative bona fides into tangible support. To do that, he would need to publicize Bachus's troubles, which may be tricky given that he only filed papers to raise money on Jan. 23. Bachus has over $1 million in the bank after going the last decade without facing a serious primary challenger or even a Democratic general election opponent.
That's where the Campaign for Primary Accountability could come in. The super PAC aids primary challenges in districts dominated by one party, where the primary is effectively the election to Congress. And it reported having nearly $1.8 million to spend at the beginning of the year.
The group sounds like it's gearing up to challenge what spokesperson Curtis Ellis impishly called a "Bacchanalia of sleaze" Monday. "Replacing Spencer Bachus is a civic duty, and we will do what is necessary to make sure that happens," CPA national field director Bob Schuman said. If CPA does decide to empty some of its war chest on Bachus, it should at least result in Bachus's closest primary since he was elected. (He won 75 percent in the 2010 GOP primary.)
Vitale & Associates conducted the poll from Feb. 6-8, calling 302 likely GOP primary voters. The margin of error is 5.7 percent.