April 14, 2024


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Election 2022: Tuesday’s Alabama primary could lead to a first of its kind in more than 40 years

The last time Alabama hosted a U.S. Senate and governor’s primary runoff on the same day, Jimmy Carter was president and the Democratic Party ruled Alabama.

It was in September 1978, slightly less than 44 years ago when two Senate runoff contests – a regularly-scheduled Democratic race won by Howell Heflin, and Democratic special election runoff won by Donald Stewart to fill a vacant seat – coincided with a lively governor’s race that also went to a runoff.

The winner of the governor’s runoff on September 26, 1978? Fob James, father of Tim James who is attempting to push incumbent Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey into a runoff during Tuesday’s GOP primary.

“This is an unusual cycle that, as you can see, it’s not often a U.S. Senate seat ends up on a gubernatorial year,” said Jon Gray, a Mobile-based Republican campaign strategist. “I do think this year has the possibility that both of them could end up in a runoff.”

The prospects of runoffs in Alabama’s two biggest primary contests on Tuesday looms as the biggest storyline for next week. Runoff elections will occur on June 21 in any race concluding on Tuesday without a candidate receiving more than 50% of the overall vote.

Another potential first also looms: Katie Britt could be one step closer to becoming the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama.

Read more about the Senate race:

The U.S. Senate contest, most pundits and even some of the candidates agree, is headed to a runoff. The governor’s race is more uncertain, as polling shows Ivey with lead but not quite over the 50% threshold.

A stacked runoff in June could trigger some national attention which has mostly been absent in Alabama during this campaign season. Alabama’s primary will also be overshadowed by Georgia, where tense battles are underway in primaries ahead of the general election battles in November for Senate and governor.

Texas is also likely to generate some attention, as a runoff contest for attorney general on Tuesday could spell the end of the Bush family dynasty in the Lone Star State.

Former President Donald Trump, who withdrew his endorsement of U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks in the Senate primary, has pretty much removed himself from the Alabama races.

Trump’s activity and endorsements in races in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina stirred national media coverage. The candidacies of Herschel Walker and David Perdue – both endorsed by Trump — will provide plenty of fodder for the national networks next week.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz Texas will add a bit of a big name to the final days of the campaign. He’s scheduled to campaign in Huntsville on Monday for Brooks.

“Alabama will likely be overshadowed by Georgia next week, in part because Georgia is seen as competitive and Alabama is not, and in part because races with direct Trump involvement seem to be drawing more national media attention as they are all seen as direct tests of the power of his endorsement,” said Regina Warner, an assistant professor of political sciences at the University of Alabama.

Governor’s race

Tim James

Alabama governor’s candidate Tim James meets with constituents ahead of a town hall meeting on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the Daphne City Hall in Daphne, Ala. (John Sharp/jsharp@al.com).

For Alabama, the prospects of a stacked runoff could create some headaches for the incumbent governor who has a high approval rating of 62%, according to Morning Consult, but is facing eight candidates including two – James and Lindy Blanchard – who are well-financed and blasting Ivey on the airwaves.

Gray, who is not part of the governor’s race this year but ran the campaign for Scott Dawson during the 2018 governor’s race against Ivey, said he believes the incumbent governor is facing a problem that she has little control over: Inflation.

“Fixed income people are getting obliterated on inflation and people on a fixed income are a big segment of people likely to vote for Ivey,” Gray say.

Read more about the governor’s race:

The governor’s campaign is confident in how Ivey will perform on Tuesday. While she is not polling above 50%, there are still plenty of undecided voters who could give Ivey the outright win on Tuesday.

Of the 15.4% undecided voters in a recent Emerson College/The Hill poll, 42.8% of them are leaning toward Ivey, while 23.7% a leaning toward James and 14.3% to Blanchard.

“These numbers show the strong support for Governor Ivey across Alabama,” the campaign said in a statement to AL.com. “The governor is working hard to get out the vote for a great win during the primary on Tuesday.”

Alabama GOP Republican's forum for governor

Lindy Blanchard, a Republican candidate for Alabama governor, introduces herself during the first major candidates forum of the campaign season ahead of the May 24, 2022, primary. Candidates for governor participated in the forum hosted by the Eastern Shore Republican Women on Thursday, February 10, 2022, at the Fairhope Yacht Club in Fairhope, Ala. (John Sharp/jsharp@al.com).

Jess Brown, a retired political science professor at Athens State University and a longtime Alabama state political observer, said he believes Ivey’s “political health is good” and anticipates her having a strong showing.

“If you’re a governor for almost six years now, you’ve made choices,” Brown said. “You’ve made decisions and inevitably you’ve alienated a spectrum of the electorate. Now you have two candidates (James and Lindy Blanchard) who have spent millions of dollars and who amount to a third of the vote. (Ivey) will still lead by a wide margin or will win without a runoff.”

Thomas Shaw, a political science professor at the University of South Alabama, said the undecided voters will likely tip Ivey over the 50% she needs. But he’s interested in whether a final-days push by Ivey’s opponents will have any impact.

“I’m curious about the impact of James’ new ad where he admits Ivey is a nice person, just not who we need as governor,” Shaw said, referring to a new James campaign spot playing on TV stations statewide. “It’s an interesting approach and could be something that mixes things up.”

Jumbled Senate contest

The jumbled Senate primary will spawn some questions headed into a final sprint to the runoff, Brown said. Among the issues:

  • The Britt campaign, he said, will not run out of money due to its support from well-funded Super PACs, and the financial support of retiring Senator Richard Shelby, her former boss. “Is Durant prepared to spend millions out of his personal fortunate on what will be an expensive one-month runoff?”
  • Will the Club for Growth Action PAC – a super PAC that is the biggest backers of the Brooks campaign – continue to invest sizable amounts of money against Britt?
  • Will Britt utilize a fundraising advantage to “drown out the other people,” and decide not to debate?

“If she’s within six points of the other candidates, and she is quite a distance from 50% and needs another 10-plus points, she may have more of a pressure on her to debate especially if the candidate (who opposes her) makes it an issue by not debating,” Brown said. “The United States Senate is an office not known as the world’s best body for press releases, but for debate and deliberation.”

Britt, if she advances to a runoff, will be the second woman in Alabama to receive enough votes taking her beyond the primary, and she will be the first to do so who is not a sitting senator.

In 1978, Maryon Pittman Allen was appointed to the Senate by then-Gov. George Wallace after her husband, U.S. Senator Jim Allen, died suddenly. Maryon Allen then ran in the special Senate election that year and won a plurality, or 44%, of the votes during the Democratic primary. But it wasn’t enough to avoid a runoff, which she wound up losing to Stewart, then a state senator.

Down ballot intrigue

Jim Zeigler

Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler holds a press conference on Jan. 28, 2019, to talk about his plan to fund highway construction in Alabama without a tax increase. Zeigler also answered questions about posting photos of Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema on his Facebook page.

Other things to watch for on Tuesday:

  • What will the urban/suburban/rural split be among the candidates, and which pockets of the state will generate the highest turnout?
  • Most political observers agree that Republicans are motivated by this year’s elections and will turnout. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is predicting a higher turnout of 28% to 32%, compared to previous midterm turnouts of 2018 (25.6%) and 2014 (21.6%).
  • Down ballot intrigue will likely resonate as polling shows there is a sizable number of undecided voters heading into Tuesday. The Alabama Auditor’s race features three candidates – Rep. Andrew Sorrell of Muscle Shoals, former state Senator Rusty Glover of Semmes and Stan Cooke, a pastor from Kimberly. The latest polling shows Sorrell with a slight lead, but a whopping 60% of the GOP voters are undecided.
  • Secretary of State races around the country are generating attention in the aftermath of Trump’s persistent complaints about election integrity in battleground states following the 2020 presidential contest. In Alabama, four candidates are running for Secretary of State: Auditor Jim Zeigler, state Rep. Wes Allen of Troy, longtime Secretary of State Office employee Ed Packard, and Tennessee Valley GOP chairman Christian Horn.

An Alabama Daily News/Gray Television poll, conducted by Cygnal, shows Zeigler and Allen with the lead. But the race is clouded with 58.9% of the GOP voters undecided.

Brown said the Secretary of State’s race to replace Merrill, who is term-limited, is the most intriguing of all down ballot contests this year.

“Zeigler has been a stalwart in Alabama politics for a generation and will get to Election Day with higher name ID, and then the question becomes: How much will name recognition take him close to the finish line?” Brown said.

Read more about the Secretary of State race:

He’s projecting a Zeigler-Allen runoff which could get the governor’s office involved. Zeigler has butted heads with Ivey over the years on a variety of issues, namely the Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project in 2019.

“If it is competitive (and there is a runoff) you could have the governor and other forces in Montgomery who would prefer to have Mr. Allen in that office than Zeigler,” Brown said. “But I would not be shocked if Zeigler wins without a runoff. Think about how many times he’s been on a ballot in Alabama. Goodness, gracious.”

Georgia rules

Former President Trump Holds Rally In Perry, Georgia

Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker, right, speaks at a rally with former President Donald Trump on September 25, 2021 in Perry, Georgia. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)Getty Images

One thing is for certain, Alabama’s contests won’t be the lead story on Fox News, CNN or MSNBC come Wednesday morning.

The headline stories will be reserved for Georgia, where the Trump-endorsed David Perdue is trailing incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp in polling headed into Tuesday’s runoff.

Adding to the intrigue, Kemp is endorsed by former Vice President Mike Pence.

In the Georgia Senate race, Republican Herschel Walker – a former NFL football player and the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Georgia – holds a commanding lead in the polling and has Trump’s backing.

The Georgia GOP contests are a prelude to an intriguing November, when the winner of the governor’s race will face off against Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams and the winner of the GOP Senate primary will face off against Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock.

The spread in a Walker-Warnock clash, according to an aggregation of early polling by Real Clear Politics, is tight with Walker enjoying a slight overall lead.

“I think what has really hyped the Georgia race is Donald Trump,” said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia. “As soon as he lost the (2020) election, Brian Kemp was responsible for it (in Trump’s opinion). Trump believed Georgia was a red state, but the word wasn’t getting to Trump that he lost by almost 12,000 votes. He’s spent two years cussing Brian Kemp and defeating him was his top priority.”

Bullock added, “But Brian has had a good year I the Legislature. It may hurt him in the general election, but it will play well with the Republican voters in the primary in that he got a transgender (athlete bill) passed and constitutional carry.”

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Texas also offers up some national intrigue with a runoff election Tuesday that could mark the conclusion of the Bush family’s political dynasty.

Goerge P. Bush

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush leaves the stage at a kick-off rally where he announced he will run for Texas Attorney General, June 2, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)AP

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush (George H.W. Bush’s grandson and George W. Bush’s nephew) is likely to lose by a landslide to embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in Tuesday’s GOP primary runoff for attorney general.

“The Republican Party has moved away from the Bush business party of a decade ago to the more social conservative Trump party today,” said Jillson. “It’s sort of left George P. Bush in its wake and he’s floundering.”

Said Jillson, “The Republican Party, throughout the South and Midwest, is the party that is valuing a knife fighter over a civil business friendly Republican.”

In Alabama, unlike Georgia and Texas, the Republican primary and forthcoming runoff will be tantamount to an election win. Alabama has only elected one Democrat in a statewide contest in the past 14 years: Doug Jones, during the 2017 special U.S. Senate election against former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was awash in controversy and scandal over reports that he had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with teenage girls decades ago.

“The only way a Republican can lose in Alabama is being accused as a child molester,” Bullock said.

Will they debate?

If the governor’s race is pushed into a runoff, it will join the top two vote-getters during a three-way Senate battle on Tuesday. Former Business Council of Alabama president and CEO Katie Britt, U.S. military veteran and businessman Mike Durant and Brooks. Polling shows Britt as the frontrunner, but not by much. Two recent polls have Britt at 32%, while Brooks and Durant are either in the mid or low 20s.

Political pundits believe the Senate and governor’s races could get linked from a tactical standpoint.

“So far, the contests have not been linked together,” said Quin Hillyer, a conservative senior columnist and editor for the Washington Examiner. “And in terms of any ideological battle, I don’t think they will be.”

He added, “On the other hand, the linkage in terms of tactics – in other words, how bad does it look if there is a debate in one race but a candidate ducks in the other debate – could indeed play a role, if a debate-willing candidate plays the political cards cleverly enough.”

Gray said the debate question will be intriguing if the two races head for a runoff.

Read more: Election 2022: Where, when to vote in Alabama, sample ballots and more

“Everything in a (Senate) race will impact everything in the governor’s race and it will come back to, ‘Will you debate?’” Gray said. “Now you have a really big problem. If your (candidate) does not want to debate, there is now going to be a laser focus on that campaign, and it will be hard to avoid that.”

He added, “Because they are high profile and top-of-the-ticket races, they will have massive impacts on each other and that’s not very typical. The win within one campaign will affect he sailboats in the other.”

Ivey has expressed an unwillingness to debate her opponents, a strategy that played out with no repercussions as she cruised to victory during the 2018 primaries and general election.

In the Senate contest, Durant declined to debate last month despite a call from Britt and Brooks for him to do so. Brooks sought to debate only with Britt, which Britt’s campaign opted not to do.

Brown said Ivey will be in a “different political position” than the Senate candidates, and he cannot see the governor compelled to participate in a pre-runoff debate if the governor’s race continues into June.

“We have a governor who will cross that finish line or come near it and lead by a wide margin,” he said. “That puts her in a different political position than a Katie Britt will be if she gets less than 40%, and Durant and Brooks are within six points of her. That race will be viewed as genuinely competitive.”