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With a growing list of candidates and millions in campaign cash already on the line, the race for Alabama governor — an election still over a year out — is heating up.
So far 10 candidates have formally filed for a principal campaign committee with the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. Of those, one candidate, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, has already dissolved his committee and backed out of the gubernatorial arena: “Basically too many negatives for this this thing to add up to being a positive,” he said.
The nine remaining candidates with political committees — eight Republicans and one Democrat — have a collective $1.8 million in campaign cash on hand, a hefty war chest given fundraising in the race was only permitted to begin in June, a year ahead of the primary elections.
Of them, Twinkle Cavanaugh, president of Alabama’s Public Service Commission, has the most cash on hand with just over half a million dollars, primarily from a $500,000 personal loan to her own campaign. She has also found support from some individual donors and from the coal industry, which has historically been her political ally come election time.
“It’s one of our largest natural resources in the state of Alabama,” Twinkle said of the industry, “and I’m proud of every single person that joined our team. I fought Obama’s war on coal with every breath I had and I’ve done that for the past six years. What Obama tried to do was to drive up the price of energy in our country and put over 5,000 people in the state of Alabama out of business.”
Despite her passion and deep campaign coffers, Cavanaugh — like many politicos fully expected to compete come 2018 — has yet to make her formal announcement, but she says it will come soon.
“I will be making an official announcement within the next week, but it’s clear that I have had an unbelievable amount of support throughout the state of Alabama with over 170 unique individuals investing in my campaign,” Cavanaugh said.
“I’m proud because the median donation was $100,” she added. “These are folks, hard working men and women across the state of Alabama, who want our state to move forward. And I’m proud to have each and every one of them on my disclosure.”
Second to Cavanaugh in campaign cash on hand is Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle (pictured), who has officially announced his bid.
“For too long, the people of Alabama have seen our values come under attack,” Battle said in his announcement. “Alabama has endured corruption instead of opportunity. Scandal instead of education. Embarrassment instead of pride. We’re not just in a battle for Alabama’s values, we’re in a battle for Alabama’s future. I’m running for governor because I’m ready to lead that fight.”
Third in campaign cash as of press time is Joshua Jones, a Vestavia Hills businessman who has never run for political office before. Jones, who loaned his own campaign $250,000, said he’s “very serious about running … This is going to be a statesman’s run.”
Coming in a close fourth for campaign funding with just over $200,000 on hand is State Sen. Bill Hightower, a Republican from Grand Bay in South Mobile County. While Hightower has not yet publicly announced his bid, it’s widely regarded as Montgomery’s worst kept secret. When asked for comment, a political consultant for Hightower told Lagniappe the senator “is looking at the race very seriously.”
“He is pleased with the amount of support he is receiving from all over the state,” Chris Brown of Red State Strategies said. “As one of the most conservative senators in Alabama, he is hoping to bring that leadership to a higher level for our state.”
Also with six-figure campaign finance chests are Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington ($201,071) and Christian minister Scott Dawson ($178,008).
Carrington rolled over just under $100,000 from previous campaign cycles. Dawson, who has never before run a campaign, said he’s grateful for the financial support of his fellow Alabamians.
“I am humbled that people around this state are backing me and my vision to move Alabama forward,” the evangelist said. “As I continue to listen and learn from people around this great state, I am convinced that this race is about so much more than one office. It’s about Alabama’s future.”
Other candidates with committees had balances below $100,000, including Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries John McMillan ($38,390), perennial GOP candidate Stacy Lee George ($226), and the only Democrat in the race, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb ($63,300).
Despite the funding gap, Cobb has said that she won’t be deterred from winning back the governor’s mansion for what has become Alabama’s super-minority party.
“I’m going to be the next governor of Alabama. We’re not going to be complacent any more. Republicans have given us a trifecta,” Cobb said, referring to the falls from grace of Alabama’s GOP governor, chief justice, and speaker of the house within the past year.
“It’s time to have a governor who’s more concerned about people than party. I do believe in taking care of the least, the last, the lost. People are tired of the partisanship. There is just a yearning for creative, unselfish leadership.”
When it comes to fundraising, though, Cobb will have her challenges, but it’s something she’s not unfamiliar with. In March 2015, Cobb wrote an op-ed in Politico Magazine called “I was Alabama’s top judge. I’m ashamed by what I had to do to get there,” in which she criticized the vast fundraising efforts needed to fund a bid for public office, particularly in judicial races.
This is another ball game, and Landon Nichols, the former chief justice’s campaign manager, thinks the candidate can rise to the challenge.
“We are pleased with where we are this early in the campaign and we are grateful to those who have already contributed,” he said. “We are especially glad to have so many individual donors make small contributions.”
The primary elections for governor will be held on June 5, 2018. The general election will be Nov. 6.