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Sizing up House race

Four years ago, on Nov. 7, 2006, Democrat Seth Hammett overwhelmingly won his bid for an 8th term in the Alabama House of Representatives, receiving 77 percent of the 11,995 votes cast in the District 92 race.

Two years later, on Nov. 4, 2008, in one of the highest voter turnouts in recent memory, 79 percent of the local voters supported John McCain, a Republican, for president.

And it wasn’t just an anti-Obama sentiment that year. Local voters also gave most of their support to Republicans Jeff Sessions (81 percent), Lynn Sasser (57 percent), and Carl Turman (56 percent). Bragg Carter (58 percent) was the only Democrat to lead a ballot in Covington County that year.

So what does that make us, the voters of Covington County? Pretty independent-minded, according to one political analyst who runs campaigns for a statewide organization.

And that’s exactly what Don Cotton, who plans to be an independent candidate for the seat about to be vacated by Hammett, hopes to capitalize on. Cotton is in the process of collecting the 362 signatures he needs on a petition to be certified by the Secretary of State as an independent candidate and have his name appear on the ballot. Covington County already has one elected official, Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan, who isn’t affiliated with a party. He is unopposed this year.

Ten months ago, there were at least nine names being dropped as possible contenders for the House seat this year. Four of those will be on the ballot between now and November.

In June, former commission chairman Greg White, an accountant, and political newcomer Mike Jones, an attorney, will square off in the Republican primary.

The winner of that race will face both Cotton and David Darby, a Democrat who’s a pharmacist.

Perhaps one of the most interesting details of this race is that White and Cotton are close friends who meet for coffee every morning.

Some local pundits think Cotton decided to run as a spoiler, projecting that his entry into the race means he thinks White will lose to Jones. Cotton and Jones served four years together on the Andalusia City Council during the last administration. To call each the other’s nemesis would be an understatement.

But, I don’t think that’s the case. Like Jones and Darby, both White and Cotton see this year’s election as a rare, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The last time there wasn’t an incumbent in this race was 1978.

Cotton unsuccessfully opposed Hammett in 1982. White has made at least one run for the state senate. Each has an obvious desire to serve in the legislature.

But for now, the race boils down to the Republican primary, which is eight weeks from Tuesday.