GOP governor’s race: Well-funded Byrne vs. outsider Bentley

Published 8:09 pm Monday, July 12, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Tuesday’s Republican runoff for governor pits a well-financed candidate with a long list of powerhouse endorsements against a self-funded outsider who has picked up crucial support from two losing campaigns.

In a campaign stop Monday, Bradley Byrne said he has received endorsements from Alabama’s Republican governor, three congressmen and other key GOP officials because Robert Bentley has worked with the Democrat-run Alabama Education Association to get Democrats to vote in the Republican runoff.

“The truth of the matter is he can’t get any Republicans to support him because they know he’s a Democrat. He’s doing the Democrats’ bidding,” Byrne said at the Montgomery airport.

Bentley said he’s recruiting Republicans, not Democrats, and Tuesday’s runoff will be decided by supporters of the third and fourth-place finishers in the primary, Tim James and Roy Moore. Bentley is predicting he will get many of those votes.

The campaign chairmen for James and Moore endorsed Bentley after the primary June 1, and several key figures from James’ campaign, including his finance chairman and press secretary, attended Bentley’s rally Monday on the Capitol steps.

Bentley, a state representative from Tuscaloosa, sees Byrne’s list of endorsements as hurting the state’s former two-year college chancellor rather than helping him.

“What that shows is Bradley Byrne is the establishment candidate. When you are for the status quo, all these people are going to endorse you,” Bentley said.

Bentley, a retired physician, has run his campaign largely off $1.9 million in personal loans.

He acknowledged Monday that no one gave him a chance last year when he announced, but his unconventional campaign caught on as he released his income tax returns and pledging not to take a salary as governor until Alabama’s 10.8 percent unemployment rate drops to 5.2 percent.

Byrne, considered the front-runner through much of the campaign, has reported raising nearly $7 million with generous support from the same business groups that helped elect Gov. Bob Riley to two terms.

Byrne served on the State Board of Education and in the state Senate before spending two years as chancellor and helping clean up a system rocked by corruption that went all the way to a former chancellor. Byrne kicked off his campaign last year by calling AEA a corrupting influence on state government, and he has been fighting the state teachers’ organization ever since.

Byrne said Bentley has voted with AEA many times in the Legislature, and the organization would have the best of both worlds if the AEA-backed Democratic nominee, Ron Sparks, and Bentley square off in the general election Nov. 2.

“He is a part and parcel of the AEA domination of this state for the eight years he has been in the House,” Byrne said.

Democrats also have a runoff Tuesday, but there is only one statewide race on their ballot: attorney general.

The state’s chief election official, Secretary of State Beth Chapman, is expecting light turnout, with fewer than one-fourth of Alabama’s voters participating.