Citizens and voters all over America bemoan how candidates and campaigns seem to start earlier each election cycle. In Alabama, for example, four candidates for Governor — two Republicans and two Democrats — are already jockeying for the June 2006 primary election.
Of the two parties, the Democrats have now taken center stage. The candidates for Governor in the Democratic primary include Don Siegelman, the former Governor, and Lucy Baxley, the current Lieutenant Governor.
Siegelman has high name identification but his negatives are astronomic. In late October, he was indicted under RICO for allegedly taking more than $1 million in bribes for doing special favors for Alabama companies that sought his help as Governor. He may have pocketed some of this money. Former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, also newly indicted, is alleged to have paid $500,000 to Siegelman for an appointment to the Certificate of Need Board, which makes decisions about which types of expensive medical equipment can be installed at which clinics and hospitals. A lobbyist who offered Siegelman gifts and a former Siegelman department director who helped do favors helped the investigation. If convicted of a felony, Siegelman could spend 20 years in prison.
Siegelman responded the charges were false and, trying to tap into Democratic hate for national Republicans and the Bush Administration, said the indictments were part of a Republican plan to smear him. Baxley, chief beneficiary of the Siegelman indictment, clucked about how it was a sad day for Alabamans, who deserve honesty in government.
Well known among the party faithful, Baxley has little statewide name identification yet and is countering it with distribution of “I Love Lucy” buttons and stickers.
The Siegelman indictments pushed the Republican soap opera off the front pages. Expelled Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is challenging incumbent Governor Bob Riley.
Moore was expelled from the Supreme Court by an Alabama judicial ethics panel for flouting the law when his insistence a two-ton granite monument to the Ten Commandments shouldn’t be removed from state property also defied a federal judge’s ruling the monument was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. In Alabama, symbols mean more than substance. This intransigence earned Moore support and plaudits from fundamentalist Christians.
As incumbent, Riley starts with high name identification. Unfortunately for him, he also has high negatives among likely Republican primary voters due to his 2003 plan to reform Alabama’s tax code. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the $1.3 billion ballot proposal, which was backed by an odd coalition of business groups, teachers, and state Democrats, the last two of which are not usually Republican primary voters.
The gubernatorial announcements of both men were ironic as they reached out to attract supporters of the other. As if to allay fears he would be a one-issue fringe candidate, Moore stressed financial responsibility and returning government to the people. Riley spoke about his spiritual walk and said his aggressive government reform agenda was already making government accountable to the people. Some pundits suggest Riley and Moore will try to out-Jesus one another.
The Mobile Register-University of South Alabama poll is Alabama’s most respected. However, it hasn’t focused on the party primaries since January, before any candidates had even announced. Instead, the poll has focused on the horse race for Governor, polling registered voters. In a poll released in the middle of October, Riley led Siegelman 46 percent to 31 percent, and Baxley 44 percent to 33 percent. Baxley led Moore 44 percent to 37 percent. Siegelman and Moore finished in a tie, with 40 percent each. That was a few weeks before the Siegelman indictment.
Why have the candidates started so early? One reason is money. An indicted Siegelman will now have difficulty raising money. If Baxley raises enough, she will drive Siegelman out of the race and be able to purchase name identification and position herself. However, it is still early enough for a third candidate with personal wealth to step in.
A former Congressman and incumbent Governor, Riley has shown remarkable fundraising acumen. His ability to raise money, however, is unlikely to drive Moore from the race.
Money is less of a factor to Moore and true believers who help him. To underestimate the ability of Moore to get sympathetic voters regardless of party to turn out for him in the primary should not be underestimated, especially if pastors and Christian Coalition voter guides urge congregants to support Moore. Reported polls will never capture this intangible factor.