Last week, Gov. Kay Ivey earned her spot among Alabama’s most politically powerful by dominating the Republican Party gubernatorial primary contest.
It wasn’t even close. Ivey avoided a runoff by defeating three formidable challengers, including one with deep pockets in Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.
This outcome was as important as it was impressive.
If such a thing as power ranking of Alabama politicians existed, Ivey would move ahead of Sen. Richard Shelby to take the top spot. It’s not that Shelby has done anything to weaken himself, but Ivey showed Alabama she could own her party’s nomination literally without moving a finger.
She didn’t participate in any of the so-called debates. Her public appearances consisted of closely guarded ribbon-cutting ceremonies and photo-ops. She went through the motions of running TV and radio campaign ads that probably weren’t necessary.
And now she has emerged as the Republican nominee for governor in a solidly Republican state. The cliché that she was the “selected governor and not the elected governor” doesn’t carry as much weight now.
Aside from the handful of North Alabama counties Battle carried, Ivey dominated everywhere. In some of Alabama’s rural counties, she ran up percentage tallies in the high 70s. In her home county of Wilcox (with a total of 118 total GOP voters), she hit 90 percent.
Unless you were in a county that bordered the Tennessee River somewhere, you were in a place where the combined forces of Battle, Scott Dawson and Bill Hightower did not lay a glove on the incumbent “selected” governor.
In the state’s Democratic primary, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox had a similar outcome, though not against a quite-as-well-funded opposition. Maddox had a good night last Tuesday, and his victory over former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb was significant because it does represent a changing of the guard.
Slowly going by the wayside are the Democrats of Alabama’s past. They had a good run of Democratic control in Montgomery that lasted from the 1870s up until 2010. Bell was a part of the old Alabama Democratic Party legacy.
Now Democrats have a bench of new talent led by last year’s upset-winner, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones. Jones is hardly a young gun. He has been a fixture in the Democratic Party going back to his time as a staffer for Sen. Howell Heflin. But he does represent Alabama’s “new” Democratic Party. It’s one that doesn’t rely on an apparatus like the Alabama Education Association to win elections by brute force.
Instead, it appeals to Alabama’s bourgeoisie — those who live in suburbs like Fairhope, Homewood and Madison. It’s also a Democratic Party that has gained ground in Alabama’s elite hamlets, such as Mountain Brook, Montrose, Montgomery’s Cloverdale and Mobile’s Spring Hill.
It’s a much more impressive Alabama Democratic Party than that of five to 10 years ago.
But it still won’t be enough for Maddox to beat Ivey.
Coming off of Jones’ win, many Democrats think they have a decent shot, but primary turnout suggests otherwise. Republican turnout topped Democratic turnout in the gubernatorial primary by a more than 2-to-1 margin.
One can attribute the lopsided turnout margin to races down-ballot on the Republican ticket. Many Democrats vote in Republican primaries because that is where all the action is. Also, there were not as many competitive races on the Democratic ticket as there were on the Republican ticket.
Democrats will still have to use some trick plays and throw some Hail Marys to come close to pulling off an upset.
One of those gimmicks will undoubtedly be trying to reinvent Kay Ivey as Roy Moore. Roy Moore, remember him? He’s the one that allegedly tried to score with underage women. Whether or not this is ever proven, we will be reminded that Ivey stuck by him.
This will be the game plan for the Democratic Party and its increasingly irrelevant allies at AL.com and The Montgomery Advertiser. They will say Kay Ivey supported Roy Moore. They will say Kay Ivey probably voted for Roy Moore. Some will probably say Kay Ivey is Roy Moore.
The reasoning: It worked once before. Why not do it again?
That will be one of the tactics in this multi-pronged offensive. Ivey also won’t likely stand on stage for a debate with Walt Maddox. We’ll hear, “What’s she hiding from? If she can’t debate, then she can’t be governor.”
That one worked well in the GOP primary, as Ivey’s lead went from a percentage of the upper-40s to the mid-50s.
We may even get to revisit the questions about Ivey’s health. After all, don’t we need someone young and in good health in the governor’s mansion, like, say, a 45-year-old mayor of Tuscaloosa in Walt Maddox?
That one worked well in the GOP primary, too. Ask Bill Hightower.
There’s also the possibility, if Ivey’s opponents get desperate, that some last-minute super PAC will come out of nowhere, like Highway 31 did last year, and start the “What about Kay Ivey’s sexuality?” whisper campaign.
None of this will matter. Kay Ivey is not Roy Moore.
You can’t make her Roy Moore. No one is going to see a 73-year-old woman and think “sexual predator.”
The issue of Ivey’s age and health won’t matter.
Richard Shelby is 84 years old. No one questioned his age when he ran for re-election in 2016. Want to try it? Then you better be willing to respond to questions about sexism.
On health questions, there are very successful Republican governors all over America that don’t have a 100 percent clean bill of health. Maryland’s governor Larry Hogan is a cancer survivor. Texas’ governor Greg Abbott was paralyzed in 1984 after an oak tree fell on him while he was jogging.
And finally, if we’re talking about Kay Ivey’s sexuality in October, it will be because Democrats are way down in the polls and desperate.
It’s not to say Democrats shouldn’t even bother. There is a slight moderation in the state’s politics in some places. If Democrats are playing the long game and hope to eventually be in a position to pick off a seat or two here and there, they ought to give Ivey their best shot.
As for now in 2018 Alabama, that best shot probably won’t be good enough.
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