The Political Buzz
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
After two years and millions of dollars spent on the campaign trail, Tim James' frustration at falling 167 votes short of a GOP runoff for governor with Bradley Byrne must be mountainous.
James is in an almost impossible situation despite his supporters' understandable desire to recount the votes to be certain of an accurate outcome. Even if he were to win, James would face fallout and complications to deafen ears to a true meritorious campaign on issues and ideas.
The consensus this morning among the cognoscenti in political discourse with MBT held that James can't prevail and thus should, no matter how dissatisfying, concede for the good of the party. Maybe party poobahs can broker a deal where in exchange for dropping out James gets to go three rounds with GOP Attorney General Troy King.
"I have spoken to four different Probate Judges and they say he has no chance, and I agree," says a north Alabama politico with a network of statewide connections. "He is acting like Fob (stubborn and petulant). For him to have any political future he needs to stop this now and say he supports whomever the nominee is. If somehow by hood or crook he does pull something off, the voters will kill him. They are tired of the primaries and need a break till the fall campaign season starts."
"It is virtually impossible for Tim to pick up the votes," said one legislator. "Hopefully, he will put the party first and accept it."
Ironically, no one other than James would more like to see the Greenville businessman prevail and fight on in the runoff than his would-be runoff opponent and primary sparring partner Bradley Byrne. James clearly appears to the Byrne camp as a more vulnerable runoff foe than the unscathed Dr. Robert Bentley. A further irony may be that James' unwillingness to concede works for Byrne, too. Byrne can empathize with James' quandary while others spread the anti-gospel of Bentley. In that fog of war, the one certainty is Byrne's position in the runoff.
"First, the chance of James' coming in second in the recount is extremely unlikely," a lobbyist asserted. "For example, the first three counties recounted yesterday increased Bentley's lead by five votes.
"Second, the process hasn't been particularly helpful to James' image, but I think his negatives were already high anyway. He'd clearly be a weaker runoff candidate than Bentley."
An ex-legislator from the Democratic side of the aisle offers a different perspective, "A recount is necessary considering what the Repubs do in a general election,
i.e. Bush/Gore, Riley/Siegelman. Now they are doing it to themselves. James has wide support. Bentley on the other hand has Stan Pate and Paul Hubbert."
A recount win would stir waves of skepticism and criticism, even a major James backer admits.
"It's just a tough place to be PR-wise," he said. "Who will trust the recount got it right any better than the workers got it on June 1. How many counts are enough?
"Unless a major mistake is discovered somewhere in the state that would completely explain the shift in numbers (box of ballots never counted, machine malfunction, etc.), I don't think you can change the results," he continued. "Assume you change two votes per county and that edges it back to James how can anyone know that is a more accurate number? I'm not sure NASA deals with tolerances that tight (well let's hope they do but the polls don't have a bunch of Ph.D engineers named Werner)."
But one veteran political wag is pulling for James on the theory that he would enjoy a TV spot this fall where James lectures Sparks, "This is Alabama, Ron. Candidates for governor here speak English. Learn it."
So, given that limited and certainly not infallible sampling, Bentley will probably hold on to the second spot and, despite trailing Byrne in the primary, enter the runoff campaign as the odds-on favorite to win the nomination.
Will it be a walkover for Bentley or will he find life challenging as a candidate who is taken seriously by his opponent? Bentley may have stubbed his toe almost immediately with the departure of three staffers from his campaign in spite of Bentley's unexpectedly strong showing June 1.
"I don't know the relationship (among Bentley and the ousted staffers), but the way these folks were treated is unbelievable," said one veteran lobbyist. "The young staffers were so excited on TV primary night --- and they should have been as they pulled off a miracle. And then to be fired ---and not even by Bentley --- should give folks pause."
"It was handled poorly," conceded one south Alabama supporter of Bentley.
But a relatively minor slip-up with arguably second line political operatives tossed overboard from a suddenly first line campaign will be but one sally Bentley must dodge in the second round of the GOP election.
"Right now Bentley is riding a high positive," observed a lobbyist with ties to Byrne. "The question is whether the negatives on him that will be coming out in the weeks ahead will transform that image. Or more accurately stated, they will certainly dent the positives and increase the negatives.
"The real question, though, is whether the net result of the changes will be sufficient for Bradley to overtake him," he continued. "The AEA ties will hurt him as well. But candidly Bentley would win if the runoff were today. And James would lose if he were in the runoff and the race were today."
Not only was Bentley largely given a free pass in the primary, he said, but the field tended to praise the kindly and elderly physician as a counterpoise to their lacerating observations of the candidates who were seen as genuine threats."
"... this is particularly so when the candidate's chief strength (is) his nice guy image. I mean people don't know anything about Bentley other than he seemed nice to them. So, running roughshod over his young
staff hits him where it hurts most ... and couple this with the voters about to get their first taste of the other side of the story on him, and it is very damaging potentially."
Talk of vast numbers of Democratic crossover voters in the GOP runoff July 13 must dismay Montgomery attorney James Anderson who came within an eyelash of avoiding a runoff in his Democratic run for attorney general. Anderson fell just short though, tallying 49.6 percent of the vote. Birmingham lawyer Giles Perkins was able to squeak into the runoff and live to campaign another day or actually another six weeks.
"I want everybody who voted last time in the Democratic primary to vote again and just like they did,” said Anderson. “That will be fine with me. I’m certainly not telling anybody about Republicans allowing voters to cross over into their election. I know some people want Democrats to get involved in the other race, but I think that’s just asking for trouble when you do that.”
Anderson said he carried 63 of the state’s 67 counties in the primary, but acknowledged that a light turnout and fresh slate made it a whole new game.
Anderson pointed out that in 31 counties the contest between him and Perkins was the only election on the Democratic side of the ballot.
According to Anderson, Alabama is one of just eight states that require candidates to poll 50 percent plus one of the vote to win.
“I would’ve been nominated outright in 42 other states,” he said. “Some have pluralities where if you’ve gotten over a certain percentage and/or there’s a wide enough spread, you win. I had a 19 percent lead.”
"He (Perkins) called and told me he was in regardless (of whether or not he got the ANSC endorsement),” said Anderson. “That was the decision he had made and I respect that decision. I wish I hadn’t even had to run in a primary but there you are.”