Sunday, July 25, 2010

Alabama Governor Race

Race of the Day

Alabama Governor

July 25, 2010
100 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2008 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Likely Republican

Once a stalwart of the Solid South for Democrats, Alabama is now one of the staunchest Republican states in the nation. Over the past 15 years or so, the state has favored the GOP at just about every level of government, with the exception of the state legislature, where many conservative Democrats still get elected.

Recent Gubernatorial elections in the state though had seen the office switch back and forth between the two major parties every four years. However, GOP Governor Bob Riley won a comfortable reelection in 2006, and as he faces the end of his second term, he has managed to remain fairly popular (no small feat for any incumbent Governor these days.) The conservative nature of the state and overall Republican momentum this year, makes it pretty likely that the GOP will win it's third consecutive Gubernatorial contest.

The two nominees are formally off and running and the Democrat is the statewide elected Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks who will face the surprise Republican nominee, a previously little known State Representative and doctor named Robert Bentley.

In some ways, both major party nominees were unexpected. Sparks defeated Birmingham Congressman Artur Davis, a young, charismatic African-American, whose political promise had at times been compared to Barack Obama, of whom he was an early Presidential supporter. The Harvard educated Davis cut a bit of a more moderate path though on Capitol Hill and angered some Congressional Black Caucus colleagues by voting against the Democrats' Health Care bill.

The fact that black voters make up such a large portion of the party's primary electorate was expected to work to Davis's advantage, but that healthcare vote, as well as some old feuds with the state's black political establishment actually caused many influential African-American political organizations to instead back the white Sparks, who had the image of a good ole' boy, but somehow wound up positioned to Davis's left.

As for Bentley, he had just narrowly managed to finish second in the state's crowded Republican primary field, and advanced to a runoff against the first place finisher Bradley Byrne, who had run the state's community college system. There had been other candidates in the field with a higher profile than Bentley, and in the runoff, Byrne was seen as the choice of the Republican establishment, including outgoing Governor Riley.

The supporters of the candidates who did not make the runoff though gravitated to Bentley, who managed to defeat Byrne by a solid margin to earn the right to oppose Sparks in the fall. Before the runoff vote, a Rasmussen Reports poll showed Bentley ahead of the Democrat by nearly 20 points, a margin significantly stronger than the lead Byrne had. Bentley's surprise triumph in becoming the GOP nominee appears to be less about ideology and more about personality and being an "outsider."

While Davis had endorsed Sparks for the general election after his primary defeat, he greeted the nomination of the Republican Bentley by speaking very favorably towards him and claiming he was likely to become the state's next Governor.

Due to the somewhat unusual dynamics of the Democrat primary, Sparks probably does not have to worry too much about racial backlash for defeating the candidate who would have been the state's first black Governor, but the road is uphill enough for him as it is. Despite having previous general election down ballot success, Alabama is once again apt to send a Republican back to Montgomery.

Bentley Campaign link (he sorta looks like Dana Carvey portraying George H.W. Bush):

2010 Governor races predicted thus far: 0 D, 1 R

Predicted Gubernatorial Totals thus far: 7 D, 7 R