Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The 2006 Alabama election roundup

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

That's the lasting political lesson from this year's Alabama election, which saw the top four statewide offices on the ballot -- governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and chief justice -- go to the candidates who first used television advertising to define themselves in a positive way before their general-election opponent could air a positive or negative ad. (The governor's race admittedly was Bob Riley's for the taking well before the ad season began in earnest, but the other three races were close enough that well-done TV spots probably made the difference.)

Democrats and Republicans split the top four jobs, so the message applies equally on both sides: If you expect to win a major office, hit the airwaves first and do your best to stay there.

Other observations stemming from Tuesday's state returns:

It's easier just to mark one line: Alabama Republicans have entrenched themselves as the default party in statewide races. The GOP swept the down-ballot appellate court races that receive comparatively little money and even less attention. As more and more Alabama voters drift toward the Republicans in national elections, more and more of them are prone to defer to the GOP when the names are unfamiliar. Turnout seemed about average for a midterm election in Alabama, so credit that trend for much, if not all, of the margin in the more obscure races.

The hunt for Blue November: Despite the observation above, all hope is not lost for the Democrats, particularly in local races. The party captured a slew of county offices, and it also retained a solid majority in the state House. Additionally, the blue team held the bleeding in the state Senate to a minor scrape rather than a hemorrhage. The road was tougher in statewide races, but the victories by former Gov. Jim Folsom, Jr., in the lite gov race and Sue Bell Cobb in the chief justice contest show that Democrats can win big-time battles if they manage to stay competitive in the fundraising game. They also can count the re-election of Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks and the sweep of the Public Service Commission races among their successes. The GOP is surging in Alabama, but Democrats have done a respectable job of holding their own so far here in the Deep South.

Stranger things have happened: Brace yourselves for frequent discussion of the possibility that Riley will use the governor's office as a launching pad to higher office. The prospect of a Riley vice presidential nomination has arisen repeatedly in the last few months, particularly after he campaigned with U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and the numerous "2008" and "Riley for President" signs clearly visible in the crowd at his victory speech Tuesday night will do little to help quell the VP talk -- or the White House talk, for that matter. A GOP nominee from the West or Northeast probably would seek a Southerner as a running mate to reach out to the nation's reddest region, and the popular second-
term governor of Alabama would have to appear on pretty much any such short list. So, ready for an early primary?

Taxes weren't the devil this time: In a mild surprise, Amendment Two, a.k.a. the 10-mill bill, passed with flying colors Tuesday. (The surprise, of course, relates not so much to the approval itself as to the nearly 60 percent support the measure received.) Alabama voters often reject ballot proposals that involve the word tax, but proponents apparently did a good job of reminding people that the tax increases that the amendment would require wouldn't affect most of them. The lack of organized, vocal opposition certainly didn't hurt, either.

Now for a reality check: All in all, my pre-election predictions were fairly accurate. I correctly called all of the major state races except for chief justice, which was basically a toss-up. Nationally, I may have been a bit too conservative in my estimation of the strength of the Democratic wave, but as amateur forecasts go, mine wasn't all that far off the mark.


Blogger Altoid said...

I concur with your analysis of the candidates that won being able to define themselves early. I still think the Riley talk is just fodder for politicos (admittedly like us) who would like so see someone from Alabama challenge for an office like the White House. There are 2 major reasons why Riley will not be the nominee for Prez or VP. 1) He can't raise enough money between now and then to actually mount a primary campaign and thus expose himself enough nationally to garner the VP spot or get the nomination. 2)It is strategically stupid for a Republican to pick an Alabama Governor as a running mate unless it is a cross-party selection. It provides no benefit to the ticket, which is what a VP choice is chosen for, as no matter who the GOP nominates he/she will take Alabama. As far as your prediction results go I was glad to see that you picked Little Jim as I did also. I will be gloating about my other predictions later, but all-in-all a good election.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

Good job on calling the Cobb upset. I think you ran the table on your predictions.

I agree that a Riley presidential bid is highly unlikely, and his hopes for a VP nomination took a major hit Tuesday when Folsom put himself next in line for the Governor's Mansion. If Riley plans to run for higher office, it'll probably be in 2010 at the earliest in an effort to deprive Democrats of the advantage of running an incumbent governor for re-election.

Still, I don't think the fact that Riley is from Alabama would preclude people from considering him as VP. The GOP's last three presidential nominees have come from reliably red Kansas and Texas, and the current vice president is from Wyoming. Also, the Democrats' 2004 nominee came from Massachusetts, perhaps the bluest state of all. I would think parties would make a conscious effort to select nominees from swing states to try to tip those states in their direction, but recent history for some reason doesn't bear out that hypothesis.

The lack of a Riley presidential run wouldn't necessarily strike him from the VP short list, either. Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle didn't run for president before getting the VP nod, so there's recent precedent for that kind of under-the-radar GOP running mate.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I suspect Riley's coattails, as short as they appear to be, may be enough to tip the scale in Nabers' favor."

4:49 PM  
Blogger Altoid said...

Those are 3 historically different VP choices for different reasons. I didn't really understand why Cheney was picked, but we do know that he wasn't the original choice, he was just chosen after being selected to find a good VP. Kemp and Dole both were sacrificial lambs in that the GOP knew they were going to lose and couldn't find a decent VP from a swing-state. As for Quayle, who knows? It was totally unexpected then and is still baffling today. I just don't think a Riley VP nomination is politically viable. As far as Kerry goes, I was just referring to the VP nomination, not the Prez choice.

10:52 AM  

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