Riley pleases, angers, puzzles
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Gov. Bob Riley variously angered, pleased or puzzled area Republicans with his endorsement of Randy McKinney over Trip Pittman in the Republican runoff election to fill the Baldwin County District 32 State Senate seat.
McKinney's camp quite naturally was delighted to have the state party's most prominent figure so publicly in its corner in the days leading up to today's election.
The angry ones were of course Pittman's supporters. They were disappointed that the governor would side with one Republican over another with no apparent compelling reason. The move possibly foments dissension within the GOP ranks as its nominee heads into the Oct. 16 general election opposing Democratic nominee A.J. Cooper, an experienced and capable candidate.
Puzzled were longtime Republican loyalists and political pro's who simply viewed the decision as dubious politics. After all, it is not as if Pittman planned to align himself with the Lowell Barron faction in the state Senate. The upside for Riley in backing McKinney would not seem to be offset by the downside of the sour taste left in the mouths of Pittman's supporters.
So why would Riley, a seasoned and accomplished politician, go against the grain of conventional political wisdom?
The Mobile Bay Times turned to an array of political sources for their insight, but one of the more intriguing explanations suggests that Riley's motivation had little to do with McKinney and less to do with Pittman and, instead, had a lot to do with former state Sen. Albert Lipscomb.
Lipscomb was eliminated in the primary election. Shortly thereafter, he endorsed Pittman. While the exact cause of the governor's present disfavor with Lipscomb was not identified, several sources pointed to his displeasure with the Magnolia Springs farmer as a major factor in Riley's high profile involvement in a GOP runoff election. Another veteran Republican with ties to the governor said Riley never uses profanity, but makes an exception in Lipscomb's case.
Will the governor's unorthodox role in the election ultimately be a campaign squall that passes as quickly as it arrived or will hard feelings persist?
"It is serious in that Gov. (Riley) got his feelings hurt about Lipscomb talking him down but long term no real damage."
"I am not sure there is a rift in the Baldwin County GOP. It is more disappointment in Riley getting involved in a primary. While Riley may be liked and respected in Baldwin, the voters don't want to be 'told' who to vote for. Besides McKinney has been running his run-off as the 'Riley Candidate' and not on his own credentials (which are impeccable).
I think if and when Trip Pittman wins the campaign, there will be serious discussion on how much impact Riley has with the rank and file GOPers. He had almost zero coattails in 2006 while winning with 58 percent and if McKinney loses on Tuesday, Riley and his team of consultants (which are McKinney's) will be embarrassed."
"I think it is very serious. I know it is among a lot on the Eastern Shore but it's broader, based on comments I'm getting from around the county. How long it will last is another thing."
veteran Baldwin County republican
"If McKinney wins, it will go away. If Pittman wins, I think the rift could worsen depending on how Pittman handles it."
"The rift this endorsement has created is significant and unfortunately it also provides a further rift and animosity between the Eastern Shore GOP and South Baldwin GOP which was substantial prior to the endorsement."
Baldwin GOP official
former GOP official
"If he decided on his own to come out and support McKinney, then it was a dumb move on his part. If he was advised to do it, he was given bad advice. He should have stayed out of this race. Both men are solid candidates. By entering the fray, the governor has alienated some of his supporters."
"I don't know about the rift in Baldwin, but the endorsement gives validity to the appearance of establishment, big business control of the state GOP. Blue collar, small business Republicans need to be concerned about this public move by the governor. I'm not one that thinks involvement in a primary is taboo ... but this isn't endorsing the right man for Baldwin County, it's ensuring the governor will have another soldier that follows without question or hesitation. Someone on your site recently called the BCA, the big business council. That is so true and it's obvious that the BCA and the governor collaborated on these endorsements. I'm concerned about the direction of the state GOP. People who question things like Amendment 1, annual property tax appraisals, insurance reform, immigration reform, state contracts, social issues or anything the governor proposes are viewed as mavericks."
south Alabama republican
"Baldwin County is blessed to have two wonderful, qualified candidates in the Republican primary.
The county elects a VERY high percentage of Republican candidates, to the point where we see a situation developing similar to Alabama in the 70's, when I became involved in politics; that is, it was a one-party game.
So, there are going to be two sides. Not to compare one to Dems and one to Reps, and CERTAINLY NOT in this example.
However, when there are people involved, there are going to be sides taken.
When the game is politics, there are going to be at least two sides.
All I can say about this case is, there are two sides, and both good!
Our Republican governor is supporting Randy. Our Republican first district chairman (me) supports Trip.
I can't speak for the governor. That being said, I believe the governor will be well-satisfied with the job Trip does if elected.
I believe I will be well-satisfied with the job Randy does if elected.
I think, with respect to this race, the Governor and I are both in a good place to be!
We cannot lose, we can only win big or bigger (each in our own opinion)."
-- Les Barnett,
State GOP first district chairman
"I do not know how about any rift in the Baldwin County GOP over Riley's endorsement of McKinney. It's all conjecture at this point."
south Baldwin executive
"I could not give you a good estimate, only a few have mentioned it, mostly old timers like me. If you support McKinney, you generally like it; if you support Pittman, you don’t.
However, it is an unwritten rule that an incumbent does not endorse candidates in the primary. It will make it awkward for the governor if Pittman wins and it makes the primary battle more divisive within the party."
"Everything I have heard so far has been negative toward the McKinney camp. There are more than a few folks scratching their heads wondering why Riley would come out so strongly in a race between two qualified republicans. As I heard someone say last week, “What kind of favor did Riley owe McKinney?”
"My formal response is 'no response.'
I normally enjoy discussing local and state political issues, both on the record and off, but since this is a 'family' issue, I think it is best to follow an expanded application of Reagan’s 11th Commandment in this case."
"The people I’ve talked to are not happy with Riley getting in the middle of this race. Bear in mind though, most of the people I talk to are Pittman supporters. A few others I’ve talked to, who were undecided, are going to vote for Trip because of Riley’s interference. This endorsement could backfire on McKinney and Riley. As popular as Riley is, his endorsement is a head scratcher. That tells me McKinney’s polls show him behind, hence the Riley endorsement and McKinney going much more negative in his ads."
Baldwin financial advisor
"I don’t know how those in Baldwin County feel, but there are a lot of people in Mobile that are upset at the governor for getting involved. For years, standard operating procedure has called for no endorsement in a Republican primary by a Governor, Senator, etc., especially when you have two very qualified candidates. Look at Riley’s quotes in Monday’s Mobile Press about the presidential primary. What Riley has done will deter good, qualified people from running in the future."
"I have not seen or heard anything about any 'rift.' Of course, I am primarily in the Foley and Orange Beach areas, which have predominantly McKinney supporters.
But I was in Fairhope Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening at a party, spent the night, was around a lot of Eastern Shore people, and no one expressed any disappointment or concern over the Governor’s endorsement, and I certainly did not detect any rift.
Generally one would think a governor would not endorse any candidate in a Republican primary … but I think that the endorsement by Gov. Riley points out how important he feels it is to get Randy as the Senator from this area.
... it will blow over if there is a rift. I can understand Trip and his supporters getting upset, but again, I do think it is unusual for an incumbent governor to endorse one Republican over another in a primary, and this emphasizes how much the governor feels he needs Randy in Montgomery … the governor has always felt the same about (former SD-32 Sen.) Bradley (Byrne)."
south Baldwin lawyer
"I don't have any problem with the governor endorsing Randy McKinney and as far as I know, neither does anyone else except maybe the Pittman campaign."
south Baldwin Republican
"I think this is just the age-old problem of an elected official making an endorsement in another race. I'm sure some feathers were ruffled but I would not anticipate long term problems."
former state senator
"Most of us are shocked that the Governor is involved in a local Senate primary. No one questions that Randy and Trip are both good Republicans. It just doesn't make sense. Many are pointing out that the Governor didn't fight nearly this hard last fall when he had the chance to help Republican State Senate candidates against Democrats. It reminds a lot of people of the heavy handed pressure that the Governor and his people used in trying to get Republicans to abandon their principles and support his $1.2 billion tax increase. Several are speculating that McKinney's support of the tax increase explains the Governor's actions. It's so rare to see the Governor actively support a Republican candidate; it's just a shame he has chosen to fight against another Republican."
"Riley's paying back a favor to Randy for his help on the ASB (state school board). Plus no downside since he cannot run again. Trip is a good candidate also. I hope he will challenge Joe Faust (who took significant amount of AEA money after he was elected to clean up his campaign debt) if he loses the Senate race."
onetime GOP candidate
"Yes, I believe it has (created a rift within the GOP's ranks). Many of the older repubs think it was a Montgomery power play, and they remember amendment 1 that Riley tried to get passed. Though I think it will pass soon enough, I think it's motivated Trip's base. Hear a lot of comments about the reappraisals being due to Riley."