With Fat Tuesday mercifully in the rearview and Super Tuesday fast approaching, many Alabamians have the primaries on their minds, and there are several storylines worth dissecting before the big day. Let’s shake off the MoonPie hangover and examine the upcoming elections:
U.S. Senate race — The GOP primary looms large across the state and nationally as well, with the eventual Republican nominee getting the shot at knocking Doug Jones out of the seat he’s held since 2017. There have been a variety of polls over the past couple of months, and while the numbers differ, most suggest there will be a runoff between former U.S. Senator and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville. Current U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne ranks third on every poll I’ve seen that wasn’t commissioned by his campaign.
It’s no surprise Sessions is looking like a shoo-in to make the runoff, but the fact he’s still polling in the 30s after 20 years of serving as Alabama’s junior senator suggests he’s no lock to win the nomination. It just seems if Alabamians overwhelmingly wanted to send Sessions back, he’d be polling above 50 at this point.
Tuberville can create excitement anywhere he goes because of his star power as a former SEC football coach. He showed that again this past Sunday, working crowds downtown before the parades. Even 30 minutes after he’d left Moe’s Original BBQ, it was easy to hear people in the crowded restaurant talking excitedly about meeting or seeing him. Tuberville almost certainly has to be out-shoe-leathering Sessions. I’ve personally seen Tubby campaigning locally four times, but haven’t seen Jeff once.
Sessions seems comfortable hanging back and using his financial advantage to run an aggressive ad campaign instead of pressing the flesh as much — at least in this part of the state. Lately, those ads have also definitely taken much more aim at Tuberville, adding validity to the thought process that Tubby must be a concern for the Sessions campaign.
If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me they really used to like Bradley Byrne but don’t even recognize the person he’s become, I’d have enough money to run my own campaign. He’s come off as incredibly pandering and insincere in this race so far, and if he misses the runoff that will be a big part of the reason why.
This past week the mud-slinging amped up a notch with allegations Tuberville has advocated for open borders and actually lives in Florida. Tuberville made statements months ago encouraging immigration, but they did not specifically mention illegal immigrants, and he has said he moved to Alabama in 2018 with the notion of running for office. Alabama law says you only need to be a resident for one day in order to run for office, but that hasn’t kept both Sessions and Byrne from playing the “born in Bama” purity card.
One thing for certain is any runoff involving Tuberville is going to not only feature candidates trying to out-Trump one another, but also to out-Bama each other.
U.S. House District 1 — This is a tough one to call in both the GOP and Democrat primaries. For their part, the Democrats are so lightly funded in this Republican stronghold of a district, it’s hard to imagine any of them having much opportunity in the general election. As such, the Republican primary is the race to watch here. I’ve seen a number of polls with former State Sen. Bill Hightower, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl and State Rep. Chris Pringle all within the statistical margin of error of one another and a huge amount of undecideds, so it’s hard to go on much here except gut instinct, in terms of which of these three will duke it out in the runoff.
My sense is that Hightower and Carl have a slightly better shot than Pringle. Hightower has gotten more financial support from Washington and his runs for Senate and governor have at least had his name in front of voters frequently. Carl has also run for countywide office twice and has really been wearing out the shoe leather as well. If Pringle misses the runoff it won’t be for lack of hustle.
Both the Carl and Pringle camps have expressed enough concern about Hightower to make me think they both believe him to be the one to beat. I’m thinking it’s going to be a tight race all around.
Amendment One — This one is still a head-scratcher for a lot of people. There are some people really fired up one way or the other about the concept of replacing the elected state school board with one appointed by the governor, but I’m not sure I understand why.
Change for change’s sake isn’t necessarily a good idea, but when you’ve been at the bottom of education rankings for decades, can anyone really argue a change isn’t due? Alabama goes through school superintendents at roughly the same rate Donald Trump goes through cabinet members, so consistency there would be key to improving.
I’m not sure the argument that elected school board members are more responsive to the people holds much water either. Nobody pays attention to state school board members. It’s primarily a breeding ground for people who want to run for higher office. If governors are responsible for appointing board members, their successes or failures would be more closely tied to the state’s chief executive officer. We at least pay a little attention to governors.
The terms are also staggered and Senate confirmation is necessary, so that would temper a governor’s opportunity to do anything too crazy. If nothing more, perhaps the process of choosing a new board and confirmation might put more of a spotlight on what’s happening with public education in Alabama.
Mobile County Treasurer — This is always a fly-beneath-the-radar position, as I’m sure few people actually know what the country treasurer does. But incumbent Treasurer Phil Benson got his butt in a crack last year after making some decidedly anti-LGBTQ comments on a Facebook post that even gained some national attention.
In response to the Mobile County Republican Party posting an article about a Colorado baker sued for refusing to make a cake celebrating a gender transition, Benson posted: “This poor guy needs to move to a place he is wanted. Freaking queers have gotten too much sympathy. A real abomination.”
Benson eventually apologized, and has been quiet as a church mouse since that happened, but those comments likely earned him a GOP challenger in Danny Perry. Perry has served as treasurer for the Alabama Transit Association, and has also been a member of the county’s Republican Executive Committee for 25 years.
While I’m still not convinced we even need a county treasurer, this might be an interesting one to watch.
The choice — While there’s no doubt many people will go in and not have a second thought about which primary they’ll vote in, Alabama’s laws against crossover voting are likely to give some pause. If you want to have a voice in the Democrats’ primary race, but also one in the GOP primaries for House and Senate, you’re out of luck. Vote Dem and there’s no GOP runoff vote for you, or vice versa and you miss out on Alabama’s role in picking the Democratic nominee.
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