After nobody won Friday’s Mega Millions and Saturday’s Powerball top prize, a total of at least $2 billion in lottery winnings were up for grabs at the beginning of the week.
That’s “billion” with a “b.”
Around the state of Alabama, people flocked to border towns in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida to drop untold amounts of money on long-shot chances to win a share of this money.
On the I-10/Nine Mile Road exit, the first after crossing the Florida-Alabama line, a security guard was stationed outside a Circle K as people wrapped around the building to get in and buy what they could not obtain in Alabama — a lottery ticket.
People aren’t flocking to Pensacola, or to Ardmore, Tennessee, or Tallapoosa, Georgia, because they see a lottery as a means to help Florida, Tennessee and Georgia achieve the goals of some noble public policy endeavor. They wanted to buy a lottery ticket so they could have a chance, even if it is minuscule, to become a billionaire.
They drove hundreds of miles, in some cases, for this opportunity.
Message to Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox: Those could potentially be your voters.
These are people that don’t care about Class III gaming and what that might mean for the Poarch Creek Indians casino. They’re not interested in what the money is spent on. They may not even understand the moral argument against gambling.
In fact, they may see their inability to buy a lottery ticket closer to home as a result of an overly paternal government that doesn’t think its people are responsible enough to spend their own money on gambling.
The lottery is a big issue in this boring Alabama election cycle given there’s not a whole lot else about which to care.
The lottery is also a big issue nationally because the jackpot is shattering all kinds of records and dominating the news.
At least one local-broadcast channel TV newscast per designated market has done some iteration of the man-on-the-street interview segment, “What would you do with $1.6 billion?”
This was your time, Mayor Maddox. Rather than all these nonsensical, destination-less, rabbit-trail campaign tactics, the lottery could have been your thing.
You should have deployed volunteers to every state line, border town gas station with a lottery terminal from the Flora-Bama to Cypress Inn, Tennessee. The volunteers should have had “Walt Maddox for Governor” T-shirts and some glossy postcard touting the virtues of Alabama having its own lottery, but with one added feature: “You could have saved a lot of time and money on gasoline if Alabama had a lottery. If I’m elected, I’ll work to make that a possibility.”
There’s never been a time in Alabama when potential voters have cared more about the lottery than right now.
But you didn’t do that.
Instead, you ran goofy ads touting your pro-Second Amendment and pro-life stances. You looked into the camera and told us how old you are. You overhyped this idea that you could play up this worst October surprise in the history of Alabama politics by questioning a then-Lt. Governor Kay Ivey hospital visit in Colorado from 2015.
Most people have just enough attention to remember the score of last week’s Alabama football blowout. They’re not going to care about some alleged convoluted scheme to hide health problems that happened three years ago.
This is not how you win the governorship of Alabama.
If I’m a Democratic politician in Alabama outside of the 7th Congressional District and a few other areas around the state, first I’m considering a switch to the GOP.
If that’s not feasible, then my game is not to defeat a Republican opponent on ideological grounds. This is a battlefield long lost. Unless my opponent is accused of child molestation, I’m running against the status quo.
Most of the voters I would need to pick off aren’t worried about Medicaid expansion. If they’re even thinking about the health care system, they’re concerned about the cost of their own health insurance premiums, likely provided by their employers.
They have a precise idea of what the state government should do. Ivey’s EKG readings are definitely not on their minds.
If you want to win as a Democrat in Alabama, you have to win over some Republicans. That’s how Doug Jones did it. He won over the Republicans that, given the right circumstances, might vote Democrat.
These were voters in Baldwin, Jefferson and Shelby county suburbs. They’re in academia-laden Lee and Tuscaloosa counties. They’re employed in the tech sector in Madison County.
They have enough expendable income to take a car ride to a nearby state line and buy lottery tickets. They likely have a commute to and from work that involves a congested road the Alabama Department of Transportation has neglected because it has its own political aims.
What they probably don’t care about is gubernatorial debates or Kay Ivey health conspiracy theories.
If your goal is actually to win an election, you can do so within your own political and ideological framework that appeals to the people that might vote for you. These are people that otherwise couldn’t care less about the election, or if they do care, they vote Republican just because everyone else does and have never been given a good enough reason to do otherwise.
That’s where you blew it, Mayor Maddox.