The 2006 Alabama election roundup
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.