Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Lessons from the primaries that just won't end

It's a gubernatorial election featuring a margin so tight that it fairly could be said to fall into "rounding error" territory. Also, the Democratic nominee is best known for supporting an expansion of gambling. If "2002" flashed into your mind before you read this sentence, congratulations: You, like me, pay way too much attention to Alabama politics. Let's consider a few early takeaways from the 2010 state primaries.

A good poll is hard to find: Maybe you thought Ron Sparks would beat Artur Davis for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Maybe you thought Robert Bentley had a chance to run, say, a strong third on the Republican side by picking up some voters disgusted by the free-for-all between Bradley Byrne and Tim James. Maybe you thought lower-than-expected turnout could have unanticipated consequences. But if you claim to have known both that Sparks would trounce Davis almost 2-to-1 and that Bentley would surge all the way to second place (by a mere 40 votes at this writing), then you're either a liar or someone who needs to make way more money as a pollster than you do now.

The black establishment's support still matters a lot: At least if you're a Democrat running for high office in Alabama. When I read that Dallas County, right in the heart of Davis' congressional district, had gone for Sparks, I knew Davis' night would end early. Say what you will about Sparks' pursuit of backing from the Alabama Democratic Conference and the Alabama New South Coalition, but the decision got results at the ballot box. Davis' move to vote against health care reform while stating support for a hypothetical bill that would do all the things that the actual bill did couldn't have helped him among the party's more progressive wing, either.

Seriously, Bentley's campaign was lights-out: How many non-politically-minded people outside Tuscaloosa County could have told you who Bentley was a year ago? You probably could count the number on your fingers. Now, seemingly out of nowhere, he's in the thick of the GOP governor's race, and he has an excellent chance of getting the nomination if he hangs on and makes the runoff. (If you think a lot of James supporters will go for Byrne after a brutal primary battle, and if you think the Alabama Education Association won't pull out all the stops to keep Byrne out of the Governor's Mansion, think again.) Depending on how the next few days go, I may have to reclassify his campaign as not just the state's best-run of the year but maybe its best-run in decades.

The power of positive thinking (or at least advertising): As solid as Bentley's campaign was, it got big assists from Byrne and James, who focused like lasers on each other with ad nauseum negative attacks. GOP and conservative independent voters turned off by the tone were left with two choices: the former judge who's still trying to make political hay out of his years-ago Ten Commandments battle, or the doctor who's running pleasant-sounding ads talking about job creation. A very conservative person who's close to me put it thusly earlier this week: "I think I'll vote for Bentley because he hasn't made me mad."

You can't always get what you want: But if you drop out of the governor's race and run for lieutenant governor instead, you at least can get nominated for something, right? Now Kay Ivey just has to hope that Jim Folsom, Jr., can't remember how to spell "PACT" in campaign ads. But something tells me he can. And will. Frequently.

Sometimes being tall is enough: Name one thing you know about Luther Strange besides the fact that he was a lobbyist and that he's roughly 27 feet tall. Here's a hint: He's also not Troy King, which was all it took for him to win the GOP nomination and become the overwhelming favorite in the attorney general's race in the fall. Our state's long nightmare of having an AG who voluntarily straps on a tracking device and who in his younger days publicly worried about the household arrangements of three men, an armadillo, and a houseplant are finally over. In Alabama, you take progress where you can get it.

And sometimes you just deserve to lose: Remember when U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith decided the Democratic Party had become just way too liberal for him, mere months after it spent an enormous sum to get him elected? And remember when the Republican establishment welcomed him with open arms and bragged about his party change as an omen of things to come in November for the Democrats? Yeah, see, it turns out that GOP voters don't like blatant political opportunism any better than Democratic ones. Enjoy the rest of your one and only term, Mr. Griffith. I'd suggest enjoying a cheeseburger at the congressional cafeteria before you go, but you'd probably just ditch it for a chicken sandwich in the middle of the meal anyway.



Theirs always another election.

3:24 PM  

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