UPDATE 1-Republican takes large lead in Alabama special congressional election
(Recasts with 85 percent of precincts reporting)
By Kaija Wilkinson
MOBILE, Ala. Dec 17 (Reuters) - A business-backed Republican lawyer captured 68 percent of the vote against his Democratic opponent on Tuesday in an Alabama congressional race, with 85 percent of precincts reporting.
Bradley Byrne, 58, declared himself the winner over Democrat Burton LeFlore in a special election to replace Republican Representative Jo Bonner, who in May announced he was resigning to take a job at the University of Alabama.
Last month, Byrne, an attorney and former state lawmaker, defeated a Tea Party rival in a close primary race in Alabama's 1st congressional district that highlighted the intraparty tensions between the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement.
Byrne's $1.1 million campaign was backed by big corporate donors, including Home Depot Inc and Wal-Mart Stores Inc . LeFlore raised only about $7,000, according to campaign finance reports.
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, and 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 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 healthcare law, which LeFlore supports while saying some minor tweaks are needed. LeFlore has also called for cuts in military spending.
Analysts had predicted a low voter turnout in the election.
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 and Lisa Shumaker)
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