Alabama Gubernatorial Republican Runoff: Byrne vs. … Bentley?

Bradley Byrne started the Republican race to be Alabama’s next governor as the favorite, polling between 27 to 30 percent, but as such a number reveals, Republicans in Alabama weren’t really sure who they liked.  Four candidates had a legitimate chance in the June 1st primary to make the July 13th runoff.  With Byrne as the establishment favorite and early leader, it was up to the other three to try and stand out in a crowded field and hopefully make enough of a splash to join Byrne in the runoff.  First, let’s provide a snapshot of the candidates.

Bentley beat out James for the runoff seat, but check out this post to get commentary on the July 13th Bentley vs. Byrne runoff election

  • Bradley Byrne: Like many southern politicians, Byrne started his career as a Democrat, switching to the Republican party in 1997.  His earliest political experience started in 1994 on the state board of education.  He had a stint in the state senate starting in 2002, but made his biggest mark in Alabama between 2007 and 2010 as chancellor of the two year college system which was in disarray.  Byrne is a Fairhope native and resident.
  • Roy Moore: Famous for his 2001 refusal to take the ten commandments out of his Alabama State Supreme Court where he was Chief Justice, Moore has been a favorite of rural Alabama social conservatives ever since.  He has thrown his hat in both the 2006 and 2010 gubernatorial elections since his 15 minutes of national attention, and has had some decent support on both occasions.
  • Tim James: A Greenville resident, James is a developer and son of former governor Fob James. Tim James notably made money on a deal-gone-bad toll bridge project he put together with the city of Orange Beach as a quick access highway to the beach. He sold out of the project for $70 million and the city has paid twice the bridge’s revenues in costs so far.  2010 is James’ second attempt to become the governor of Alabama, both times focusing on social and fiscal conservatism.
  • Robert Bentley: A Tuscaloosa doctor, Bentley is the only major candidate that is not essentially a career politician.  He ran for the State House of Representatives in 2002 well into a successful career as a Dermatologist.  Bentley used his experience in healthcare and as a small business owner to support health and budget legislative issues.

With Bradley Byrne consistently in the lead, the race for second place really took over.  According to Real Clear Politics, Roy Moore consistently polled just above 20% early in the race, siginficantly higher than James or Bentley.  After the passage of the controversial Arizona immigration law, James attempted to capitalize on national conservative momentum for illegal immigration reform.  His campaign commercials garnered extreme praise, criticism, and even spoofing.  Whether most Alabamians liked his ideas or not, the ad campaign drove Tim James’ favorability rating higher and helped thrust him into a one-on-one commercial battle with Bradley Byrne.  Byrne probably did James a big favor by engaging him in the increasingly negative campaign ads prior to the June 1st primary.

By the time of the primary, Byrne and James had taken up so much airtime in ads you may think most Alabamians may have forgotten about the other candidates – but the results show otherwise.  Amazingly, Robert Bentley had a huge showing, recieving more than 25% of the vote after never polling over 10%.  Tim James may have taken away some from the Roy Moore faithful, as he came in just under 20%, but the relentless battle between James and Bradley Byrne obviously played favorable to the mild demeanored, soft spoken Robert Bentley.  Bentley’s ads were few and far between the onslought by his competition, but when they aired, a viewer would definitely take away three things:

  1. He’s a doctor
  2. He won’t take pay until Alabama reaches full employment.
  3. He didn’t say anything about anybody else.

Bingo.  This guy carried the magic ticket and he probably didn’t even know it.  In all the huff and puff between the favorite, Byrne, and the late inning gunslinger, James, Robert Bentley came out of nowhere and pulled off a 167 vote “victory” for second place. Byrne carried the 28% as he polled, but one would expect he would of done better with the falloff of other minor candidates and tendency for late deciders to go with the frontrunner. It is pretty easy to surmise that many voters were turned off by the bickering betweeen James and Byrne and ran the other direction toward what appears to be a safe choice for a smart, hardworking doctor that promises to not pay himself until all Alabamians can get paid too.

With such a close race, Tim James called for an all out 67 county recount to keep his hopes alive to face Byrne in the July 13th runoff.  However, such a recount is unprecedented for Alabama primaries, and Troy King, state Attorney General, tried to shut the door on it when he announced that even if James is granted permission for the recount, the runoff would still go on as planned between Byrne and Bentley, and he would have to pay the estimated $250,000 to $600,000 for it.  Not even Alabama Republican party chair and Alabama District 79 Representative Mike Hubbard attempted to push the recount.  Tim James appeared ready to call off the recount dogs when Bradley Byrne, perhaps rightfully concerned about Bentley as an opponent, was about the only person standing up for James at all.

Then James’ lifeline hit. On June 13th, Secretary of State Beth Chapman announced she believes the vote deserves a recount.  That’s all it took for Tim James to quickly say that he’s moving forward with the recount at his own expense, and now we can expect the results of the recount to either put the pig to bed or haunt both us and the courts for weeks if it flips the election.

With all of the attention on the republican race, it’s hard to say whether Ron Sparks, the democratic nominee that handily beat the potentially historic candidate Artur Davis, will gain from the episode or not.  The democratic race hasn’t been talked about much since the primary, but Ron Sparks shocked many when he beat Davis nearly 2:1.  Most blame it on Davis’ recent republicanesque voting record, but hey, maybe it’s just because we all get to see Sparks signature every time we fill up our tank with gas.

One thing is for sure, if we have to pay this much attention between now and November 2nd to the races and not the issues, I may want to throw a match in that tank.

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