The qualifying is finally done. I began to think it would never end, as the state Democrats took until midnight to get the nominee list. And when they did an update after supper and it said, “as of 3 p.m.,” you knew it would be a long night. I finally had to do a follow up Saturday as we could not be sure of which Republicans had no opposition.
But it pretty much was an example of the plight of that party. We can now say that the local level Democrats in the state appear to be worse than the local level Republicans of 30 years ago. In the old days, the Republicans could meet in a phone booth, but you can bet they would find a few token people to run for some positions. It usually didn’t work, but the party was represented. It seemed to happen on the state level, too, but it came in handy during the Baxley-Graddick dispute over crossover votes, when Graddick had more votes but the courts opened the way for Baxley to be the nominee instead. As a result, people turned that year to Republicans and their nominee, Guy Hunt. If he wasn’t floored, everyone else in the state was.
However, the Democrats, as I understand it, have failed to run local Democrats in Walker and Winston counties this year. I am floored with that. Could they not have run some token candidates, just to have someone represent the party on the ballot? The only talk that I heard was of a possible Democratic candidate against Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, but that never turned out. Worse, I have heard that Democrats in Walker County didn’t have any local candidates four years ago, either.
It would seem that the Democrats have reached the bottom of the barrel. It can’t get worse than this. Consider that you had the governor, the House speaker and the state Supreme Court chief justice removed from office, and you are coming off a Democratic victory in a U.S. Senate race that has had reverberations across the nation. You have President Trump, who should be enough to make Democrats growl instantly. There should be activity all across the ticket.
Granted, statewide the number of Democratic House candidates from 56 in 2014 to 74, and a number of Democratic candidates are near the top of the ticket. However, the truth of the matter is the state party is still in a virtual mess. On the local level, you have a party that can’t field even token candidates. Republicans are still strong across the state; Trump would win against George Washington in this area. The mention of the Nancy Worley, the party chairman, is enough to get eyeballs rolling in some quarters. There were fewer North Alabama legislative races fielded by the Democrats this time, and Worley admitted to the Montgomery Advertiser, “That does seem to be an area where we need to work. It’s an area that’s been growing increasingly red over several elections now.”
That is the understatement of the year.
As for actual races, the governor’s race has several people but only two real names - former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. Republicans have two real names that stand out: Gov. Kay Ivey and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, although you might include evangelist Scott Dawson. Yellowhammer said an internal poll, which included Roy Moore (who didn’t qualify) had Ivey at 52 percent. A catastrophe would have to happen for Ivey to lose. If one did, Battle might be considered a strong candidate with the economic progress in Huntsville. I wouldn’t give much of a chance for Cobb and Maddox, although Maddox could use this as a stepping stone to run for another office later. (I would have said to run for something lower first.) I would think Cobb has more name recognition, but the hunt for someone new in the party could lead to Maddox.
It is rather surprising to see U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt have a crowded field, with one challenger in the primary and two running among Democrats. At the same time, no one knows who they are, and Aderholt’s conservative pro-Trump plank will almost certainly get him re-elected, as he can also dangle the possibility of chairmanship of Appropriations next year, in tandem with U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby probably looking at being chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh is the only candidate with name recognition for lieutenant governor; Secretary of State John Merrill should win in a cakewalk. The state auditor race has one name people recognize, and that is Republican Jim Zeigler. As controversial as he is, Republicans will love him and voters won’t recognize the others.
Attorney general could get interesting, as the incumbent, Steve Marshall (who was appointed to take over after Luther Strange left and is largely unknown to the public), will face former Attorney General Troy King, and former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin. The Democrats have Don Siegleman’s son, Joseph, running for the position, but he is untested and is a Siegleman, meaning he will automatically be a lightning rod, be that fair or unfair. King and Martin might be the ones to watch, and could be seen as another conservative renegade (King) vs. establishment (Martin) race.
Chief justice could be interesting as well. First, Bob Vance, Jr. has secured the Democratic nomination for that race. His father was the judge was killed in a 1989 bombing, leading to the federal courthouse being named for him in Birmingham. Moreover, you may recall for local color that Vance Jr. was the judge who handled the Walker County electronic bingo lawsuit in Birmingham. Meanwhile, the personable Republican incumbent, Lyn Stuart, a female, will face Associate Justice Tom Parker, the justice who was known as being aligned in his judicial outlook with Roy Moore and who has said Moore was “unlawfully removed from office” last time. Divisions could shape up much like the U.S. Senate race did last year.
Moreover, Donna Wesson Smalley of Jasper decided to run for the Alabama Supreme Court’s Place 4 seat as a Democrat. She will face one of two Republicans in that race, but they are Republicans. If Republicans ignore party convictions, you want to root in your heart at least a little for a local favorite, but here are the political realities: State voters won’t know any of the three; they will look for the Republican. (Then again, anything can happen in politics.)
Greg Reed has no opposition to go back into Senate, meaning his star continues to rise in political circles. Circuit clerk Susan Odom and several judges have no opposition, which means stability in the judicial offices.
Richard “Bull” Corry, a former mayor of Oakman and restaurant owner, and state Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley should have an interesting race, as both of them have proven to be good at local politics. State Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, probably has more name recognition and experience against Thomas McCarty, although BamaCarry will back McCarty; both are pleasant to deal with.
The probate judge’s race suddenly became an open field with Rick Allison retiring. We wound up with three candidates, two of whom — John Mark Dutton and A. Lee Tucker — people like me are still getting to know. Dayron Bridges, the chief deputy at the Walker County Sheriff’s Department, is more widely known and has administrative experience. (Of course, the expected bruising fight for sheriff could bleed over into this race; I don’t know how, but this is Walker County politics. Don’t doubt the dreadful.) It should be interesting, although we all need to get more acquainted with the candidates a little more in this race.
We have a couple of school board races. District 3 could be really interesting as incumbent Bill Ed Gilbert faces a challenge from former Superintendent of Education Vonda Beaty. Trent Kennedy and David Miller will run for the District 1 seat.
And finally there are the sheriff and superintendent of education races. These are considered to be the local battle royales, we are already embroiled in Facebook wars, party challenges, legal challenges and dramatic developments at large. Thank heavens this column is already long, as it spares me from revisiting these races for now. Suffice it to say, the Democrats may have done themselves a favor, as these are the races that one would want to watch from afar, to save their own skins. But watch it we will, likely with our mouths wide open.