A couple of weeks ago, we took a look at a handful of names who might consider a long-shot bid for governor if any so-called heavy hitters sat out a primary contest against incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey, should she run for reelection.
In any matchup, Ivey would be the prohibitive favorite. Despite what would be considered vulnerabilities (gas tax increase, blackface pseudo-scandal, perception of executive overreach during a pandemic, confusing signals on handling a prison crisis), she is regarded as a marked improvement compared to her predecessor.
In 2018, three tried to run against her for the GOP nod. One was Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, who was formidable in five counties, which were the only five Ivey did not win: Lauderdale, Limestone, Madison, Morgan and Marshall.
All five of those were in his backyard, near Huntsville.
Ivey swept the remaining 62 counties. Her other two opponents, then-State Sen. Bill Hightower and evangelist Scott Dawson, did not lay a glove on the sitting governor.
It was a cakewalk for Ivey. She didn’t participate in any of the Republican gubernatorial debates because she didn’t have to. Why would she?
Too often in politics, we dwell on what “should be” instead of “what is.” The name of the game of elections is to win. It isn’t a civic exercise for the sake of being a civic exercise. It’s for power.
Ivey’s straight line to reelection in that 2018 cycle did not go through any of the debates, including those made-for-gotcha moments hosted by AL.com and other left-of-center media outlets that were still stuck on the Republicans who supported Roy Moore a year earlier.
You can’t help but wonder, though — what might Kay Ivey in a debate setting have looked like?
If a Republican wants a shot at defeating Ivey in 2022, you will need a geographically diverse group of candidates.
At this stage, the name of the game is all about keeping the incumbent governor below 50 percent in a GOP primary.
In 2018, Ivey earned 56 percent of the vote. Battle picked up 25 percent, with Dawson at 13.5 percent and Hightower at 5 percent.
Her most substantial region of support in 2018 was the counties around Montgomery. In Montgomery County, she pulled in 70 percent of the vote. In Autauga County, which is right outside of Montgomery, she earned 67 percent of the vote.
Her percentages were even higher in the Black Belt, but there are few Republican voters there.
In Mobile and Baldwin counties, Ivey scored 58 percent and 61 percent, respectively. Those two counties were also Hightower’s two strongest, where he scored 28 percent of the vote in Mobile and 18 percent in Baldwin.
If Hightower had done nearly as well as Battle had on his home turf in the northern part of the state, there might have been a runoff.
In 2022, there are reasons to vote against Ivey, should she run for reelection.
What if gas prices spike? What if Congress succeeds in a bid to pass an increase of the federal gas tax?
Imagine that political spot:
Aggressively bitter voiceover guy: “Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi want to raise prices at the pump to finance Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. Do you know who else wants to raise gas taxes and has? KAY IVEY.”
“In 2019, KAY IVEY called a special session just to raise gas taxes! Send Kay Ivey packing on [insert 2022 GOP primary date here] by voting against her to let her know Alabamians already pay too much in gas prices!”
In our neck of the woods, the toll bridge fiasco would be an easy demagogue. Find the right candidate and peel off some of the coastal Alabama vote.
In other parts of the state, it might be prisons. Perhaps in other areas of Alabama, it is broken promises of road improvements.
Whatever the issue is, a crowded field from every corner of Alabama puts her campaign on the defense. While she would still likely win a plurality of the vote, the 50 percent vote required to avoid a runoff becomes a little more difficult.
So, what? You might be thinking. Even if you can force Kay Ivey into a runoff situation, she’s still the odds-on favorite.
While that is true, the playing field levels in a runoff scenario. Would she now be forced to participate in a debate? Maybe, or if she continues to avoid a debate situation, it opens opportunities to criticize her.
Who knows what else might surface in a runoff situation?
Pro tip: Don’t try to insinuate anything about her health or sexuality. (See: Walt Maddox and Scott Dawson in 2018.)
Long story short: The best way to shrink her vote totals is through a piecemeal approach using multiple candidates through region-by-region challenges. If you can get her to under 50 percent on primary night, then the odds increase significantly.
Why does this matter? Even if it is not successful, it would expose vulnerabilities and make it a little more difficult politically to wield executive power.
Assuming she goes on to defeat the Democrat nominee, she could not run again in 2026, so it might not matter. But it would send a message to some members of the Alabama Legislature they shouldn’t be fearful of the governor and should be willing to take the risk of challenging her if they think she has acted wrongly or overreached with her power.
As the saying goes, competition can make us better.
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