GOP race too close to call

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, May 26, 2010

As we enter the last few days of campaigning leading up to next Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican primaries, the candidate’s messages may get muffled by the Memorial Day weekend. We will wake up from the revelry of the first summer holiday weekend to face a full slate of candidates from governor to coroner.

We will begin the process by picking the successor to two-term Republican Gov. Bob Riley. The Democrats will pick their nominee for governor on Tuesday.  Because there only two aspirants, there will be no need for a runoff. Four-term Democratic Congressman Artur Davis has forfeited his safe congressional seat to seek to become the first African American governor of the Heart of Dixie. His opponent is two-term Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. They have waged a spirited battle.

Davis has had a significant financial advantage and will also benefit from there probably being more African American voters than whites in the Democratic primary. Although numerous high profile African American political leaders and organizations have endorsed Sparks, when all is said and done this may not sway black voters away from Davis. Polling indicates that Davis should prevail in a fairly close race.

The GOP nomination will more than likely not be settled until the July 13 runoff. With four viable candidates seeking the nomination it will be difficult for someone to get to the 50 percent threshold.

Despite having close to $1 million spent against him with negative ads, Bradley Byrne is still expected to make the runoff. Byrne is a 54-year-old lawyer from Fairhope. He has served eight years on the state School Board; six years as a state senator and two years as chancellor of the state’s two-year college system. He is apparently the favorite of the state’s business community. He has been the premier fundraiser in the contest.

However, he picked the wrong enemy. The AEA has probably financed the very effective anti-Byrne ad campaign. He has had to defend this onslaught with his television resources, which I am sure he would have preferred to have spent on positive ads.

The beneficiary of any fallout from the negative Byrne ad ambush is probably Greenville businessman Tim James, the son of former Gov. Fob James. James has also had ample campaign cash to cash in on the corralling of undecided and disillusioned voters. He also struck a chord that resonated with right leaning GOP voters with his ad advancing English only driver’s licenses in Alabama.

Roy Moore, the former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, is the darling of the religious right and is known nationwide as the Ten Commandments judge. Moore is the elephant in the room in the GOP primary. Polling indicates that he has a solid 25 percent of the primary vote. Therefore, the challenge for James and Byrne is to get more than the 25 percent barrier and bar Moore from the runoff.

The surprise candidate to watch may be Tuscaloosa dermatologist and two-term state representative, Dr. Robert Bentley. He has run a good campaign and many believe he would make a good governor.

Kay Ivey made the smoothest and wisest move of the campaign season. She was relegated to being an also ran in the crowded GOP primary for governor. However, the lieutenant governor’s race is another story. Because of the prominence of Democratic incumbent Jim Folsom Jr., no high profile Republicans wanted to enter the fray. Therefore, Ivey’s entry makes her the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for the No. 2 post.

The winner of the GOP slugfest between Troy King and Luther Strange will emerge as the favorite to take home all the marbles for attorney general in November. Alabamians have shown a propensity for favoring a Republican for attorney general in recent decades. However, the Democratic candidates, James Anderson, Michel Nicrosi and Giles Perkins, are imminently more qualified than King or Strange, especially Anderson who has been a Montgomery courtroom lawyer for 30 years.

We will see next week.