2006 general election predictions
Bob Riley has been one of Alabama's most competent governors in decades. He did a great job of shoring up the Republican base after the 2003 failure of his tax plan. Riley also has garnered strong support among independents and Democrats thanks in part to his success in pushing sentencing guidelines and an increase in what was an abominably low income tax threshold. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley's campaign -- badly outspent and lacking a strong message -- never got off the ground. This is a sure thing for Riley.
This race is a firewall for Alabama Democrats. Jim Folsom, Jr., is the party's strongest, most recognizable statewide candidate, and he is running against a relatively unknown Republican lobbyist whose major claim to fame seems to be that he's tall. A Luther Strange victory here would suggest an Alabama rebellion against a broader national electoral atmosphere favorable to Democrats. It also probably would mean that all state Democrats, except for Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, go down to defeat in statewide races. That's certainly a possibility, but past election results lead me to believe enough independent voters will split their ballots to enable Folsom to eke out a narrow win.
Troy King entered this year as a very vulnerable officeholder. Democratic challenger John Tyson, Jr., has done a fair job of going on the offensive and pointing out King's weaknesses in the last month, but therein lies the major problem with his campaign: Tyson was virtually invisible outside of the Mobile area until a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, King took to the airwaves months ago, and he's taken full advantage of the press coverage available to incumbents. A Tyson win wouldn't shock me, but in the end, money and campaign strategy probably will give King the victory.
This contest is one of those rare showdowns in Alabama between two highly qualified and palatable choices, which makes it all the more unfortunate that the race has taken such a negative turn. Sue Bell Cobb's television ads did an excellent job of defining her image before her detractors could, and she has stayed competitive with Republican incumbent Drayton Nabers in the fundraising arena. This race is honestly too close to call right now, and either candidate could notch the win with a strong last-minute push. But I suspect Riley's coattails, as short as they appear to be, may be enough to tip the scale in Nabers' favor.
Secretary of state
Democratic incumbent Nancy Worley's name has been in the headlines several times in recent months, and the news often is negative. That factor, combined with the generally favorable political climate for Republicans in Alabama, probably will propel State Auditor Beth Chapman to victory.
Democrats hold such large leads in both houses -- 63-42 in the House and 25-10 in the Senate -- that a single-handed Republican takeover of either chamber is mathematically unlikely. The House is sure to stay with Democrats through at least 2010. However, GOP gains look certain in both houses, and a handful of losses on the Democratic side could throw control of the Senate to a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats. Either way, the margin probably will be no more than a couple of seats.
None of Alabama's seven House seats will change hands. The same won't hold true for the chamber itself. A general sense of public discontent with the country's direction, fueled largely by growing opposition to the Iraq war, will cost Republicans control of the House. The only question is whether this year's Democratic wave will be as large as 1994's GOP wave. Given that more districts are gerrymandered to protect incumbents today than 12 years ago, I don't think it will be. Still, at worst, Democrats should end up with a majority of five to 10 seats, and a bigger win is quite possible.
Again, the question here is not whether Democrats will gain seats, but rather how many. Ohio and Pennsylvania are locks to flip from red to blue, and Democrats are likely to retain power in their traditional stronghold of New Jersey. Montana and Rhode Island look more competitive than they have in weeks, but Republican incumbents there probably still will fall just short.
That will leave control of the upper chamber in the hands of voters in Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia, with the Democrats needing two of the three seats for a majority. The Volunteer State looks increasingly likely to remain red, while Democratic challenger Jim Webb is surging in Virginia against U.S. Sen. George Allen but is still far from a sure thing. If the parties split those races, the whole shebang will come down to a razor-thin margin in Missouri, where Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill and GOP incumbent Jim Talent have swapped the lead throughout the summer and fall.
A one- or two-seat Democratic majority certainly is possible with a sizable wave of disaffected voters, but right now it looks like the GOP will keep control by the skin of its teeth, with a 51-49 edge or a 50-50 split with Vice President Dick Cheney as the tiebreaker.