Are contested primaries always bad?
One of the most notable items of recent state news that didn't involve state Sen. Charles Bishop's right hand was Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks' announcement that he won't run against U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., next year. His declaration effectively cedes the Democratic nomination to state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, assuming no other contenders emerge unexpectedly in the coming months.
Sparks, who, unlike Figures, has won two statewide elections, was the best remaining chance for Democrats to spring a Senate upset after U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, opted out of the 2008 contest. It's Sparks' prerogative to decide whether to run, though, and he chose to back away, claiming Democrats will stand a better chance of ousting Sessions if they avoid a contested primary.
But I'm not so sure that a primary battle wouldn't have helped -- or at least not have hurt -- Democratic chances. For sure, Figures' status as the presumptive nominee gives her a stabler base from which to campaign and raise money, and without a primary fight, all of that money can go toward the general election. But even without a primary, Figures (like any Democrat running for the U.S. Senate in Alabama) still likely will face a huge monetary gap unless her opponent does something outlandish enough -- in the words of the Alabama Line at Doc's Political Parlor, "a George Allen type meltdown" -- to draw national attention to the race.
Figures' problem will be building up enough name recognition to have a fighting chance: Sessions is known statewide, while Figures is known mainly in the Mobile area, which is Sessions' home turf, too. A contested Democratic primary might have sunk the eventual nominee deeper behind in the money race, but the tradeoff would have been more publicity, more battle testing for the nominee, and more public familiarity with the Democratic Senate candidates at an earlier stage of the campaign.
That's hypothetical cordwood, though, and I have no obligation to stack it. As it is, Figures appears to have the Democratic blessing to challenge Sessions -- and a very tough challenge ahead.