The Republican Party seems to have momentum going into the Nov. 4 general election, but that hasn’t stopped some Democrats and Independents from campaigning for local races.
One of the biggest disparities between the state parties comes in the amount of money raised and spent during this campaign cycle. In 2014, the GOP took in contributions of $592,227, according to Secretary of State Jim Bennett’s website. The party spent $205,095. In 2013, the GOP took in $229,000 in contributions and spent $215,664.
The Republicans have an ending balance of $483,293, while the Democrats have an ending balance of $198,668, as of September. In 2014, the Democrats trail the GOP in contributions by more than $300,000 with $258,600 taken in. Also, the Democrats have only spent $61,489.
The Democrats had no money at the end of 2013, spending all of its $2,847, according to the site.
Charlie Staten, president of the Mobile County Democratic Conference, said Democrats may have the poorest campaigns, but they also have the richest message.
“The Republicans are financed by big business and Wall Street; we’re financed by y’all street,” he said. “It makes it harder, but Democrats are used to working with scant resources.”
Staten, a candidate who lost the Democratic primary in the District 103 state House race, leads the group pushing for more black participation at the polls. He said the best candidates for statewide office are Democrats, although the votes tend to not go their way.
“If people would stop voting against their own self-interests, there would be more Democrats in office,” Staten said.
Staten, who is a member of the county’s Democratic Executive Committee, mentioned the statewide race for lieutenant governor, which features Republican Kay Ivey, a white woman, and Democrat James Fields, a black man. Staten said the race is an opportunity to get a black candidate elected to statewide office. Staten said Fields was a state representative in a white majority district.
“He’s a unifier and an excellent leader,” he said. “He’s the most qualified candidate running.”
Terry Lathan, chairwoman of the Mobile County Republican Executive Committee, said with everything going on in Washington, it’s easy to see why the Republican Party is gaining strength.
“We start out with Alabama being a very conservative state,” Lathan said. “Add to that the ridiculous liberal policies of Obama, mix that together and it’s terrible for (Democrats). Alabamians are just not buying it and I’m glad. I think they are smart not to.”
Lathan said the success of the party in raising its own money and finding conservative candidates is evident by the many primary elections that have become de facto general elections.
Many local races this year featured only primary contests, as no candidate from another party registered. Republicans Margie Wilcox and David Sessions ran unopposed in House Districts 104 and 105 respectively. Randy Davis also ran unopposed in District 96.
Republican Jack Williams won the House District 102 seat after the primary, where he beat Anthony Clarkbanks. With no Democratic challenger in District 101, Chris Pringle won the seat after beating fellow Republican Don Hembree.
This election cycle also saw many strong Democratic districts with no GOP challenger. For instance, Adline Clark ran unopposed in the House District 97 race and won’t be challenged by a Republican. James Buskey, the leader of the Mobile County Delegation in the House won’t face a GOP challenger for the District 99 seat and Barbara Drummond, likewise, won’t face a Republican challenge in District 103, after defeating Staten in the primary.
Two local state Senate races also feature candidates who won primaries and won’t face a general election challenge. Republican Rusty Glover and Democrat Vivian Figures Davis are running unopposed on Nov. 4.
Lathan said that while money is important in politics, it’s not as important as message.
“Money absolutely allows people to get their message out, but they have to be a good messenger and have a good message,” she said. “I think the Republican Party does that.”
Napoleon Bracy, the county Democratic Party chairman, did not return a call for comment on this story.
Republicans were left with an easy choice for governor, with incumbent Robert Bentley seeking re-election. His opponent, Democrat Parker Griffith, a physician, businessman and former Congressman from Huntsville, won the June 3 Democratic primary.
Griffith acknowledged the uphill battle Democrats face in races throughout the state. But he said it’s important not to get state and national politics confused.
“With our media, it’s difficult for many people in Alabama to realize there are Alabama Democrats and national Democrats,” he said.
He said the party hasn’t done a good job of showing the difference between Democrats in the state and Democrats nationwide, which has made it easier for some Republicans to run. He said Republicans in the state have run against Obama during this election cycle and it’s working.
“Running against Obama is cheap and lazy politics, but it’s effective if the electorate doesn’t realize the difference,” Griffith said.
He added that while there is a big difference between the more conservative Alabama Democrats and the national party, there is also a difference between national Republicans and Republicans in the state. Griffith called state Republicans a “right-wing fringe element financed by the Koch brothers” and also criticized Republicans in the state legislature.
“The Republican supermajority doesn’t allow debate in the House or Senate,” he said. ‘The supermajority is 100 percent white and 85 percent male, while the largest voting block (in the state) is female at 66 percent.”
Bentley has been the better fundraiser in the gubernatorial campaign, bringing in $3.1 million in contributions last year and another $3 million in 2014. Griffith has brought in a total of $647,007 in contributions and another $391,000 in “other receipts.”
While Griffith has spent a total of $717,361 on the campaign this year, Bentley has spent $4.7 million, according to campaign filings. Bentley also spent $679,513 last year, where Griffith spent no money.
The Bentley campaign did not answer questions via email by press time on Tuesday.
On the issues, Griffith is running on job creation, expansion of Medicaid and the promise of an education lottery.
While Republicans have argued that the state can’t afford the expansion of Medicaid, Griffith, who voted against the Affordable Care Act as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, argued that the state has to do it. He touted job creation and an infusion of $1.4 billion into the economy.
“It provides healthcare to people who need it the most,” he said. “Hospitals are closing and people are dying because we won’t do it.”
Griffith explained that federal money would pay for expansion for the first three years and the cost for the state would never exceed 10 percent.
“The federal government picks up 90 percent of the cost after that,” Griffith said.
Griffith accused Bentley of not expanding Medicaid because he doesn’t like Obama.
“He’s afraid of his right-wing fringe element base,” Griffith said.
On the issue of job creation, Griffith criticized Bentley for being too generous with tax breaks to lure businesses to the state.
“We’re losing jobs and we’re having to buy whatever jobs we get with tax incentives,” Griffith said.
He complained that the majority of jobs created under Bentley are minimum wage jobs.
Griffith is also pushing an education lottery, one he hopes will provide money for pre-K, community colleges, four-year colleges and apprenticeship programs.
He said his plan wouldn’t allow the government to control the money and it would be audited. Griffith said the popularity of lotteries in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, and the willingness of Alabamians to go across state lines to support them, proves it’s time for one here.
If elected, Griffith would also work to raise the minimum wage.
“You can’t expect people to raise families at $8, or $9 an hour,” he said.
Sentencing and prison reform would also be top priorities.
Senate District 35
Republican incumbent Bill Hightower will face Democrat Beau Doolittle, during the Nov. 4 election for Senate District 35. It’s another race where the financial statements favor the Republican.
Hightower has raised $195,000 in contributions in 2014 alone and spent more than Doolittle has raised at $50,538. In addition, Hightower raised $38,350 in 2013 and spent $28,520. Doolittle has raised $40,402 in contributions in 2014 and has spent $21,042. Doolittle raised no money in 2013.
Doolittle, who works in the Mobile County Department of Human Resources office, admitted Hightower has more money and party resources at his disposal, but he’s not giving up.
“Without a doubt I’m the underdog, but life is full of stories where the underdog wins,” Doolittle said. “I might be David with my slingshot full of pennies going against Goliath with his independent wealth and party resources, but I’m fighting.”
Even with the disparity in resources, Doolittle said he’s running an issues-driven campaign and the letter beside his name shouldn’t matter.
“I’m in line with the economic policies of the Democratic Party,” Doolittle said. “They’re far better for working people.”
For starters, Doolittle said, he’d do away with the state’s tax on groceries. He estimated that a family who spent $100 a week on groceries would spend about $600 a year in taxes.
He favors expanding Medicaid coverage for the 186,000 working Alabamians who don’t have health insurance. Doolittle pointed to other Republican governors who chose to do so and criticized Bentley for not doing it.
Doolittle also favors expanding Indian gaming through an agreement with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Hightower has previously said he opposes an expansion of gaming because it doesn’t lead to a healthy business climate for industry and technology and leads to divorce.
“My opponent is against gambling because it causes divorce, but so does poverty,” Doolittle said.
Hightower said while he hasn’t studied the numbers, his curbside impression leads him to believe there is a “tremendous distaste in our president and what’s going on in Washington” and could be a reason for his party’s surging popularity.
Hightower argued that folks have adequate access to gambling in Alabama. He said in some cases, like Georgia’s education lottery, the majority of the money benefits the wealthy.
Doolittle said he would also like to see an increase in the minimum wage.
“I think it needs to be raised to a living wage,” he said. “A person who works 40 hours a week should be allowed a minimal standard of living.”
If elected to his first full term in the state Senate, Hightower plans to prioritize the prohibitive cost of homeowners’ insurance to some in Mobile County.
“I want to make sure we’re paying a just and fair insurance rate,” he said.
Hightower said he’s also concerned about waterway maintenance, specifically the clearing of more areas for shrimping and fishing.
While Doolittle said he’s in favor of the expansion of Medicaid, Hightower said it’s too expensive for the state.
“Our analysis shows we can’t afford it,” Hightower said. “We already have budget issues.”
District 32 Senate race
Folks along the Eastern Shore and in south Baldwin County will be asked to choose between Republican incumbent Trip Pittman and Independent Kim McCuiston.
In 2014, Pittman raised $43,110 in contributions and spent $31,586. Last year, he raised $50,525 in contributions and spent $2,440.
A search of McCuiston’s name on the Fair Campaign Finance Reform section of Secretary of State Jim Bennett’s website returned no results. McCuiston is also not among the 15 independent candidates listed on the site. Baldwin County Elections Coordinator Violetta Smith said McCuiston is on the ballot.
Pittman chalks his party’s popularity, especially in Baldwin County, up to a belief in responsibility.
“I think the party believes in responsibility,” he said. “You have to contribute, you have to participate and take care of yourself and your family.”
Pittman said the challenge for statewide politicians is that so many people focus on national politics that the “good things” happening in the state get overshadowed.
“That’s the challenge because there is such a focus on the national level,” he said.
The power of the Republican Party is one reason why McCuiston said she decided to run in the first place.
“That’s kind of the point of me running as an independent,” she said. “I’m running against Political Action Committee money.”
Despite the lack of money or organization, McCuiston said she doesn’t consider herself an underdog now, since she got on the ballot.
“I wanted to prove you could get on the ballot without a party,” she said. “I already won when I got on the ballot. Getting to the Senate is just icing on the cake.”
The issue of insurance reform is important to Pittman. He said while a lot of work has already been done, more is needed. He also said more work could be done to find efficiencies in the state budget and more work could be done to control healthcare costs to find more money for the classroom.
McCuiston said she wants to help put an end to corruption.
“We need to stop the bleeding,” she said. “Our state is bleeding money and it’s because of corruption.”
McCuiston said she supports the expansion of Medicaid and pointed to Republican governors who have expanded it.
“I really believe that if Bentley is reelected he’s going to expand it,” she said. “Once again, we have the party agenda standing in the way.”
Baldwin County District Judge race
Another contested race in Baldwin County pits Republican incumbent Michelle Thomason against Independent Ginger Poynter (see Editor’s Note at the end of this story) for family court judge.
Poynter, a local attorney, was booted off the Republican ballot before the primary and registered as an independent. Her party loyalty was questioned after she showed support for a Democratic candidate for Supreme Court justice.
Thomason has heavily outspent Poynter, according to records from Secretary of State Jim Bennett’s website. In 2014, Thomason has raised $51,490 in contributions and spent $49,615. Thomason also raised $2,500 in contributions last year. Poynter has only raised $8,136 in contributions to this point in 2014, while she has spent $6,724.
While Poynter said she has received support from the state Republican Party, like being invited to the Republican candidate school this summer, she feels like an underdog in this race, going against the local party.
She said despite being kicked off the ballot earlier in the year, she still sides with Republicans on “99 percent” of the issues, like many of the folks in the county.
“Most people can align themselves with the Republican Party, but most have become disillusioned with the Republican Party and end up like me,” Poynter said. “Because I didn’t agree 100 percent and didn’t support (Judge Roy) Moore they said I wasn’t Republican. That’s insane.”
Poynter said while she’s not a fan of change for change sake, she had been approached by many colleagues who had been in the family courtroom and wanted something to change.
“It wasn’t just time for a change,” she said. “They were desperate for change in that courtroom.”
Thomason said she is running on her experience and record of closing 9,000 family court cases in eight years. Of those 9,000, she said only two were ever reversed on appeal and neither involved children. She said doing what’s best for children in a situation involving divorce is most important to her.
House District 98 race
The race for the seat in this Democratic stronghold features incumbent Napoleon Bracy, Republican challenger Wayne Biggs and independent challenger Darren Flotte.
Biggs has raised nearly $19,000 in contributions and spent $16,427. Bracy has raised considerably more in 2014 at $74,100. Bracy, who had a beginning balance of $22,361 from 2013, has also outspent his GOP opponent with $89,569.
A search for Darren Flotte on the Secretary of State’s website produced no results.
Bracy and Biggs didn’t return calls seeking comment by press time.
Flotte, who is running as an independent after being booted off the Democratic ticket, said he’s confident because in the 2010 primary he lost by only 146 votes.
“At that time, in 2010, I was endorsed by the Alabama Democratic Conference,” Flotte said. “People in the district know me.”
Flotte said he agrees with most of the Democratic platform despite being removed from the ticket this year.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The printed version of this article failed to disclose that attorney Ginger Poynter has provided legal representation for Lagniappe in the past. We apologize for this oversight.
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