When Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., decided he wouldn't run again for Congress, a lot of people told Gary Palmer that he should. Palmer thought about it, but decided against it. "I was determined not to run," he tells Citizen.
Then his wife, Ann, told him something he didn't want to hear.
"She said, 'For years I've heard you say what's wrong with the country is that you can't get good people to run," Palmer recalls. " 'I've even heard you compare it to getting people to go to war. How can you expect someone else to go if you won't go?
" 'I know this is not what we want, but I don't think it's about what we want. I think it's about what we're supposed to do.' "
So Palmer left his job of the past quarter century—heading the Alabama Policy Institute (API), a public-policy partner of Focus on the Family—and got into the race.
In a crowded Republican field, Palmer was a big underdog, far behind several candidates in funding and name recognition. A mere 4 percent of the voters had heard of him.
But state and national conservative leaders knew who he was. And thanks to his work with API and in spearheading an alliance of state-based think tanks, the State Policy Network, they held him in high esteem.
National Review dubbed him Congressional Candidate of the Year. "Gary Palmer could immediately, even as a freshman, be a conservative congressional superstar," Contributing Editor Quin Hilyer wrote—with "the policy chops, procedural knowledge and political skills to hit the Capitol grounds sprinting as an advocate, legislator and leader."
The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes hailed Palmer as "a think tank pioneer" and "a unique candidate" with "character, conviction, knowledge and leadership."