Photo |  Lagniappe

Democratic candidate for governor Walt Maddox greets supporters at the opening of a campaign headquarters in Mobile last week.

Surrounded by enthusiastic supporters in a cramped backroom of the Mobile County Democratic headquarters on Friday, Aug. 3, gubernatorial candidate Walt Maddox made his case.

The Tuscaloosa mayor told the crowd he is supported by those who believe in universal pre-kindergarten, universal voting access and lower health care costs.

“You believe we can have leadership in Alabama that represents our values, that can make this century the Alabama century,” Maddox said to cheers.

The enthusiasm captured in the room has been noticeable statewide, Maddox said. He touted recent poll and fundraising results showing he’s gaining ground on incumbent Republican Gov. Kay Ivey.

“Let’s just think about this: This week we see a poll that virtually has us in a dead heat with Gov. Ivey,” he said. “Today, the fundraising results for July were released and we were neck and neck with Gov. Ivey. And so now, it’s amazing how many phone calls started getting returned. People are starting to believe that we can win this race.”

Results of the poll to which Maddox referred were released by his campaign shortly before his stop in Mobile. A poll conducted by Cyngal Research showed Maddox had pulled to within 13 points, garnering some 42 percent of the vote.

While the numbers were encouraging for the campaign, Maddox said after the event, he realizes there’s a lot more work to do.

“We’ve got a mountain to climb, but we’ve got a lot of mountain climbers out there and I feel really good about where this is trending,” he said. “Four months ago people said there wasn’t going to be much of a general election and now you’re going to see an election that’s going to go down to the wire. I believe we’re on the right side of history because we’re working to solve problems.”

As for July’s fundraising totals, Maddox and Ivey are very close. Maddox picked up $245,925 in cash contributions last month. He currently has more cash on hand with a total of $313,248.

Ivey raised $248,523 in July and has $271,476 on hand, according to reports submitted to Secretary of State John Merrill’s office.

In June, Maddox picked up $182,919 in cash contributions, while Ivey banked $244,283.

In addition to Medicaid expansion, universal pre-K and giving Alabamians another crack at a lottery provision, Maddox also wants to raise the state’s gas tax for the first time in decades.

Maddox’s plan, which he said is based on a suggestion from the Business Council of Alabama, would add 12 cents per gallon of gas to put toward local and state infrastructure.

“Alabama for too long has put these hard decisions off and it has created a situation where 20 percent of our bridges are functionally obsolete,” he said. “One million Alabamians go over these bridges a day that engineers say should not be up. They need to be repaired.”

Maddox’s plan has a couple caveats. In his plan, 9 cents per gallon would go to the state and be used based on merit and 3 cents would go to cities and counties to be used for local infrastructure projects. The plan would also require the projects be defined before they go to the Legislature in order to remove politics from the equation.

“They don’t need to be based on politics,” he said. “They need to be based on need.”

Other Democrats running for state office hope last December’s election of Sen. Doug Jones and the growing enthusiasm surrounding Maddox can translate for them as well.

Alabama Supreme Court candidate for Place 4 Donna Smalley said many state Democrats are running “under the radar.”

“Come November, you’re going to see a blue tsunami take over the state,” Smalley said. “This is the best slate of candidates we’ve seen in decades.”

Smalley also touted her experience, as compared to her GOP opponent, Jay Mitchell.

“I’ve been practicing law for 40 years,” she said. “My opponent was 2 years old when I started.”

Heather Milam, the Democratic challenger for Secretary of State, told Lagniappe if elected she would work to give more Alabamians access to the ballot box.

While the state currently allows residents to register to vote while they update their driver’s licenses, Milam is a proponent of automatic voter registration. Under her plan, anyone eligible to vote in Alabama would be automatically registered on their 18th birthday.

Milam said she also wants to increase voter engagement, adding she would push the Legislature to clean up election laws and prevent confusion based upon clerical errors. She touted her business and management experience, as well as her passion, as pluses for the job.

“I’m very disappointed in the leadership in the office currently,” she said of incumbent John Merrill.

Like Smalley, Milam promoted Emerge Alabama, which she described as a “grassroots movement” to help train women to run for office. More than 70 female candidates emerged from the program.

“I’m very hopeful this year,” Milam said. “I’m really, really excited about the opportunity.”