GOP winner will be favorite in November

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The superstars emerging from the June 1 primaries were Ron Sparks and Dr. Robert Bentley. There were a lot of undecided voters in both parties leading up to last Tuesday’s primaries. Obviously the lion’s share of these voters fell to Bentley and Sparks.

Sparks, the two-term Agriculture Commissioner trounced four-term 7th District Congressman Artur Davis 62 percent to 38 percent to capture the Democratic nomination for governor. Sparks was elected agriculture commissioner in 2002, the same year that Davis defeated incumbent Congressman Earl Hilliard to capture the 7th Congressional District seat. Davis was on a fast track in Washington. If he had stayed the course he could have been one of Alabama’s greatest congressmen, and we have had some good ones over the years.

At 42 years old, Davis was young enough to climb the seniority ladder. He had eight years of seniority under his belt and was on the prestigious Ways and Means Committee. He had amassed a large campaign war chest. Davis could have been a powerful member of congress for decades but he forfeited this fiefdom to roll the dice to try to become the first African American governor of the Heart of Dixie.

Most observers expected Davis to get defeated in the fall if he had prevailed as the Democratic nominee. However, most folks were surprised by the humiliating and overwhelming shellacking he took last week. Davis lost not only because whites rejected his candidacy but he also lost among black voters. He never seemed to connect with his fellow African American brethren who perceived him as an elitist and somewhat uppity. They handed him his comeuppance. His inept and lackluster campaign was run by aloof “foreigners” from New York and Iowa.

On the other hand, Sparks ran a stellar campaign. Having won two statewide races, he knew what to do and how to campaign. He worked tirelessly and crisscrossed the state continuously while Davis sat back somewhat detached and watched. Davis’ vote against the Obama health care plan was a death knell. African Americans perceived that he sold out his congressional constituency. This vote, coupled with the accompanying loss of the New South Coalition and Alabama Democratic Conference endorsements to Sparks, drove the final nail in Davis’ coffin. Sparks’ open endorsement of a plan to tax and regulate gambling also resonated with Democratic voters.

Sparks’ victory gives hope and credence to the possibility of a Democratic victory in the November general election. Davis was destined to lose. Sparks, however, can win. His best attributes are that he has proven that he is a proficient and tough campaigner. It also does not hurt that he hails from vote rich North Alabama. Sparks will not be an easy mark for the Republicans in the fall even if it is a Republican year.

The opponent that Ron Sparks would least like to face is the other face card of the June 1 decision day. Bentley emerged as the hottest Republican on the market. He would probably be the heaviest favorite to win the governor’s race this fall if he ultimately wins the Republican nomination.

At this writing, the runoff in the Republican Primary is still up in the air. Bradley Byrne led the field with 28 percent and Dr. Bentley and Tim James landed in a dead heat with 25 percent each.

There are 208 votes separating them at this time with the counting of the provisional ballots expected to be completed by June 9. We will analyze the runoff between Byrne and either Bentley or James next week when we know the players. The winner of the GOP runoff on July 13 will still be handicapped as the favorite to win in November.

For the first time in Alabama’s history there were more voters who chose to vote in the Republican Primary than Democratic Primary. It was close four years ago, when Democrats had 466,000 voters and Republicans had 460,000. Last Tuesday only 319,000 Alabamians voted in the Democratic Primary compared to 492,000 in the Republican Primary. That is quite a swing.

See you next week.