Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Baxley-Riley showdown solidifies

Maybe Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley's "sit back and wait" campaign strategy was right after all.

The trend lines are certainly in her favor. A poll in today's (Mobile) Press-Register finds Baxley has vaulted to an 18-point lead over former Gov. Don Siegelman in the Democratic gubernatorial primary race after being locked in a virtual dead heat with him just a month ago. Then again, given that Baxley's raw numbers are not overwhelmingly higher than they were in April, maybe it's more accurate to say that Siegelman has plummeted to an 18-point deficit. That's what tends to happen when you spend the weeks before the election on trial in a federal corruption case. Most significantly, Siegelman's support from black voters, always strong in the past, seems to be eroding.

Baxley's television campaign still appears more limited than that of several down-ballot candidates on the Republican side, so she seems (wisely, considering her current margin and the size of Gov. Bob Riley's war chest) to be saving her money for the fall. As I said a day ago, Siegelman's one and only chance now is to force a runoff and hope for an acquittal before mid-July. Regardless of what happens in the former governor's criminal trial, today's poll suggests the first part of that equation soon may be impossible.

Democratic voters have begun to turn on Siegelman, and Republican voters have realized that former Chief Justice Roy Moore is, well, Roy Moore. Could Alabama have a governor's race with two palatable options? Could we have a general election in which I could feel like I'm voting for a candidate instead of against one? With the primaries a week away, that looks to be the case.

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