Either Bradley Byrne or Robert Bentley will face Ron Sparks in the November 2nd general election to be Alabama’s next governor. The questions to be asked though are threefold:
- What’s the difference between these two candidates?
- Which is more electable against Ron Sparks?
- Which one are YOU going to vote for?
Okay, let’s answer the first two before you spill the beans. It’s actually pretty tough to differentiate the two Republican candidates if you look at just the website platforms. Both claim they will not raise taxes. Neither candidate misses an opportunity to talk about their “conservative family values”. They are both committed to bringing new jobs to Alabama and bringing back old ones. And of course both say they will not conduct “business as usual” in Montgomery, i.e. be subject to the will of (my nice way of saying bought and paid for by) special interests. Bentley and Byrne both want to reform Alabama eduction, and they both claim to be against gambling. Most of these similarities are undoubtedly the case, however they have some not quite unsubtle differences when we dig even a little bit.
I lumped the last two “similarities” together for a reason.
Let’s start with education. Paul Hubbert owns the AEA (Alabama Education Association), and he can’t stand Bradley Byrne. Byrne is pro-charter schools for Alabama and the AEA (which is essentially a union-type organization for Alabama teachers) is totally opposed. Bentley voted to indefinitely postpone charter schools because the bill under consideration was, “inadequate for Alabama and needed improvement.” On his website he says he provided two amendments that were both rejected in committee. Both of his amendments were headwinds to charter schools: 1) limit the initial number of schools to a 5 or 10 school test drive. 2) Make the local school boards decide whether or not to allow charter schools rather than the State Board. According to al.com, the AEA has maybe-not-coincidentally given at least $10,000 to Bentley’s campaign. Bentley critics lambast him for bending under the influence of Hubbert’s power and the AEA.
The second policy divide between Byrne and Bentley lies in their opposition to gambling in the state. Don’t get me wrong, both say they’re opposed, but the issue is how they are opposed. Gambling has been an epic and agonizing issue in Alabama for a while now. Is it bingo or is it gambling? Task force or no task force? Broad brush court rulings or individual ones? Solve it in court or settle it in the legislature.? Allow it all or make all types illegal? ah! Nevertheless, Byrne is openly opposed to gambling in any form and would use all of his power possible to prevent it. On his website, he says the benefits of gambling are “illusory” and the only way he’ll quit fighting is if the Alabama legislature passes a constitutional amendment approved by public referendum. Bentley is a little less adamant about the whole thing. It’s not even listed as an issue on his website, and when asked about it he simply says he opposes it, but that the issue should be left up to a vote of the people. Many (Republican) Alabamians just don’t think that’s good enough.
Byrne has been trying his best to advertise their differences, even starting email campaigns about Bentley’s Facebook appeal to democrats to vote in the GOP runoff (which they are allowed to do if they forego the Democratic runoff). Byrne is obviously the establishment candidate as the original front-runner and garnering the endorsement of every newspaper in the state. The question yet to be answered is whether all of the negative advertising and back and forth between Byrne and James in the original primary cost him a lot of voters that want a feel good candidate. The Byrne campaign is trying hard to get those voters back by running the ad with his family laughing and his kids talking on the front porch over and over again, reminding us that he is a real person just like us and not some career politician in it for himself. Bentley has obviously caught the attention of Alabama voters (and likely non-runoff candidates’ faithful) with his positive message and commitment not to take pay until Alabama reaches full employment (that’s an economic term for somewhere around 5%). By positive message, I also mean not-negative. Dr. Robert Bentley, first name Dr. Robert, makes a point to say four three things in every add:
- He’s a doctor. However, I haven’t seen his Dr. Pepper commercial yet.
- He doesn’t run negative adds.
- He won’t take pay until Alabama reaches full employment.
- He’s a doctor… whoops, that was #1.
Joking aside, polls show that Dr. Bentley’s message resonates. One poll has him ahead of Byrne by 20 points. It’s difficult to say if all of those people will show up though, as many must consider him their second favorite – the not-Bradley-Byrne-candidate. Interestingly, Real Clear Politics has Bentley polling better than Byrne against Ron Sparks, by +18 to +11 in the most recent sample. Having said that, let’s keep everything in perspective here. Either candidate has a double digit lead over Ron Sparks in the November race. A lot can change between now and then, but that is quite a head start. With Ron Sparks being for the total legalization of gambling and promotes the AEA agenda, you can see why Bentley might appeal to what I call “social Democrats” to vote in the runoff. He may be hedging himself toward the center before and for the general election. The question today is whether he can make good on the come-from-nowhere upset victory over Bradley Byrne. Well, you’re the one that’s going to decide. Which way are you going to go?