Down the stretch they come
With Alabama's gubernatorial primary just hours away, it's past time to examine the candidates and their campaigns. I'll discuss the top contenders for the state's top office (defined as "people for whom I've seen at least five roadside signs") in the most scientific fashion I know: how annoying I've found their campaigns. Let's go in reverse order from least to most annoying.
Artur Davis: His campaign has been far from the slickest. Much or all of his once-huge primary lead has disappeared. And his "no" vote on health care reform looked like the epitome of a crass political calculation. But it's refreshing to find a gubernatorial candidate who talks publicly about actual substantive issues like constitutional reform and ending the state grocery tax. He's also the only real contender with a plausible claim to be a true Montgomery outsider. (Sorry, Tim James, the son of a two-term governor is pretty much the definition of an insider.) If Davis can secure the Democratic nomination, he'll have a much better chance at victory in the fall than many people believe -- especially if he's running against James or Roy Moore.
Bill Johnson: It's hard to be annoyed by someone you never see. Best wishes to the former ADECA head in his search for employment in the weeks to come. Times like these make one feel glad that our state spent millions of economic development dollars to convince all those multinational corporations to locate here. Otherwise, we might have an unemployment problem...
Robert Bentley: Granted, he won't win, and his policy proposals don't really make him stand out that much from the rest of the Republican field. But Bentley, who had almost no name recognition at the start of the race, surely will finish in the double digits in Tuesday's primary, and he's stuck with positive messages amid what has become a nasty battle for the GOP nod. Start to finish, it's probably been the best-run campaign this year.
Ron Sparks: Gambling? Gambling. Gambling? Gambling! Sparks has done well enough as agriculture commissioner, but his one-note campaign is strongly reminiscent of the 1998 effort by Don Siegelman, who lost a lot of momentum a year later when voters shot down his lottery proposal. However you feel about it, gambling isn't the cure for Alabama's financial woes, and it'd be nice to hear Sparks, who has a real chance of claiming the Democratic nomination, offer some more realism about the hard choices that lie ahead for our state. I'd also appreciate the return of that magnificent mustache, but you have to start somewhere.
Bradley Byrne: Would it be the healthiest thing for Alabama to have a governor perpetually at war with the state teachers' union? There's an excellent chance that we'll find out in 2011. Byrne probably will win the Republican runoff next month, and his massive war chest will make him the favorite in the fall if he does. If you've enjoyed the Byrne camp's complaints about "Democrat union bosses" and the anti-Byrne camp's TV ads attacking the very idea of evolution, just wait until the battle is everyday life in Montgomery. But on the plus side, given Byrne's claims to have cleaned up corruption in the state's two-year college system, he apparently is a one-man U.S. Department of Justice.
Roy Moore: Trust me, I'm just as amazed as you are to find another candidate more annoying than the Granite King. But until this week, Moore basically has been the J.D. Salinger of the gubernatorial race: He did this one thing one time that made him famous for a while, and then he fell out of the public eye and public consciousness for years. He probably won't make the GOP runoff, and if he somehow squeaks into it, he won't win. The extent to which these circumstances qualify as real progress in Alabama should not be underestimated.
Tim James: This guy is a worldwide Internet celebrity, and not in a good way for Alabama. If you think the top issue confronting our state is the fact that we allow a handful of people to take the driver's license exam in Vietnamese, then Tim James is your man. If you missed the steady gubernatorial hand of his father, Fob "I'm not a fat monkey" James, then Tim James is your man. And if you want a leader who interrupts his public statements to look down at his shoelaces for no discernible reason, then Tim James is your man. Without some slick and silly commercials, this guy would be lucky to finish fourth in the GOP primary, even though he's been running for governor roughly since Richard Alpert came to the Island. As it is, he's virtually a lock to make the runoff, and he might even win it. If you're an electorally minded Democrat, that's a dream scenario. If you're an everyday Alabamian who may have to live in a state governed by James, it's... well... not.
Whatever happens, it should be safe to watch the local news again for at least a day or two after Tuesday. Unless the runoff campaign begins immediately, of course. Come to think of it...