By William C. Singleton III
Following his Nov. 4 victory over Democrat Mark Lester in the Sixth Congressional District race, Gary Palmer said he’s ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work on Capitol Hill.
“I’ve been talking with other guys around the country, and they’re ready to get to work. And so am I,” Palmer told supporters at his election party at the Marriott Hotel off U.S. 280 in Birmingham. “These new Republican candidates along with the guys who are already serving – and there are some incredible people going to Congress – are tough-minded, committed people who see this not as a career but as a mission.”
And Palmer sees himself fitting in among his Congress-bound colleagues.
“I think the greatest attributes I bring to this are a sense of purpose, a sense of mission and a sense of calling,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Palmer trounced Lester in the heavily conservative district, receiving 76 percent of the vote – or 135,711 votes – compared to Lester’s 24 percent, or 42,172 votes, according to Politico.
Lester, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and current Birmingham-Southern College history professor, wasn’t helped by his late entry into the race. He was a last-minute substitution after Democrat Avery Vise withdrew in August to focus more time on his business.
While the Sixth Congressional District – which includes suburban areas outside of Birmingham, the southwestern portions of Jefferson County and all of Bibb, Blount, Chilton, Coosa and Shelby counties – has been a Republican stronghold since 1992 when district lines were redrawn, this election cycle resulted in a shift back to the right nationally.
Palmer rides a Republican wave into Washington, D.C., as the politically conservative party captured a majority of the seats in Senate and appears poised to be a collective thorn-in-the-side to President Barack Obama during his remaining two years in office.
Palmer said among the issues he plans to tackle as a freshman congressional House representative is the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.
“Everywhere I went people asked how long will it take to repeal and replace Obamacare,” he said. “We’ve got to start that process and get out and talk to people about it so they know what they’re getting.”
During his victory speech, Palmer mentioned his faith, family, friends and volunteers – all of which he said helped make his election victory possible.
“This campaign was birthed by prayer, sustained by prayer and tonight it was delivered by prayer,” the conservative think-tank founder told his supporters.
Palmer talked about growing up “dirt poor” as the son of a logger who had an eighth-grade education but taught him the value of integrity and hard work.
“I’m the first person in my family to go to college, and I can promise you, it changed my whole family,” said Palmer, who received a bachelor’s degree in operations management from the University of Alabama.
Palmer also talked about his journey from raising money to making it through a crowded GOP primary field with seven candidates to ultimately winning the congressional seat. He emerged from the June primary but in second place to State Rep. Paul DeMarco, whom he defeated in a runoff by gathering 64 percent of the vote.
“Back in December when I was told how much money I needed to raise by the end of December, I just got on the phone and start calling. I said ‘Lord, this is your opportunity to close this door,’” Palmer said. “And everybody said ‘yes.’ And on Dec. 31 when the bank closed, I had $256,000.”
Palmer joked about having to battle a lack of name recognition.
“When they did the first poll, my name ID was at 40 percent, and half the people who recognized my name thought I was a golfer,” he said. “But other people believed in our message and they believed in our campaign and they kept giving, and here we are.”
Palmer will replace longtime U.S. House Rep. Spencer Bachus, who announced last year he wouldn’t seek another term after 21 years on Capitol Hill. Bachus attended Palmer’s election party to pass the torch to the newly-elected congressman.
“I’m excited that you’ll be my new congressman,” Bachus said.
Palmer will leave for his first term as a congressman in January.