It will be Bentley, Byrne in 2014

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Now that the dust has settled from the 2012 presidential contest, we in Alabama are ready for the real horse race. Unlike most states where the race for the White House is the marquee event every four years, our focus has always been on the governor’s race and our local races.

Our forefathers must have perceived that this would be the case when our 1901 Constitution was drafted. All our major state races are on the ballot in gubernatorial years. In 2014, not only will we have a governor’s race, all seven constitutional offices are up for grabs, including lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and agriculture commissioner. In addition, all 140 legislative seats are up for election along with all 67 sheriffs, three members of the Supreme Court, two PSC seats and all seven members of Congress. It will be quite a year.

The governor’s race will highlight 2014. The big question is whether Gov. Robert Bentley will seek reelection to a second term. The answer is more than likely yes, and odds are he will probably win.

Bentley’s most serious challenge will come from the GOP ranks.

Who will be Bentley’s challengers? There is a division within the state GOP ranks. It is real and not perceived. There is a Bentley team and there is a Riley team. They are divided not so much by a philosophical tint but as to who sits on the throne.

Bob Riley himself may be the anti-Bentley stalking horse. Riley will only run if he thinks he can win. If the polling figures remain the same, you can pretty much assume that Riley will remain on the sidelines. A recent poll revealed that if Bentley and Riley were in a head-to-head contest, Bentley would beat Riley 2-to-1.

There are two more pro-Riley horses in the fold. Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard will not run against Bentley. He will run for his House seat and Speaker again. He likes being Speaker. His power as a player in state government is second only to the governor. He has amassed a control of the House of Representatives never before seen by a Speaker in Alabama political history. He has penned a recent book explaining how the Republicans took over the legislature. He could have condensed it into one paragraph, thank you Lyndon Johnson for driving a stake in the heart of the Democratic Party in Alabama, and thank you Barack Obama for driving the final nail in the coffin.

Hubbard appears to have not spent as much time writing that book as he probably did reading Machiavelli’s The Prince. He wields immense power as Speaker and is not going to venture a kamikaze race for governor. He will likely be a contender in 2018 when there is not an incumbent governor on the ballot.

The other Riley horse is 2010, second-place finisher Bradley Byrne. Byrne, a Mobile lawyer and a former state senator and junior college chancellor, feels like he should be governor. He was the pro-Riley, pro-business candidate and was leading the field headed for victory when Bentley vaulted out of the pack at the last minute in 2010. Byrne has planned to run since day one. His actions indicate that he will be in the race.

Attorney General Luther Strange would be the most viable candidate. His favorability numbers are sky high and he is a proven winner and superb fundraiser. However, he will probably opt to seek reelection and bide his time. He would much prefer to go to the U.S. Senate. However, it does not appear that either of Big Luther’s two good friends, Richard Shelby or Jeff Sessions, plans to relinquish thei seats any time soon.