Considering Two Early Assumptions of the Governor's Race

In the chatter I hear (including on Twitter, for whatever that is worth) there is a sense that the Democratic nomination was Artur Davis’ to lose, that if only he had voted for Health Care Reform or courted ADC & New South or whatever else, the nomination would have been his. He blew it, goes the thinking. The observation missed there, I believe, is that he was running the race to win the general election, not to win the primary.

Sure, the obvious point there is that you have to win the nomination first, but the ultimate goal is to win the general election, and I believe Davis campaigned in a way he believed would give him the best chance to win the general election. It was a political calculus and it didn’t work. But I find it hard to fault him for the way he played his cards.

There is also Twitter-chatter matched by some email in my inbox that the Democrats’ nomination of Sparks is better for the Republicans this fall, and I am not sure of the logic of that either. Sparks in the past has had his crossover support, especially among rural Republicans; I’ve heard Republican legislators tell of the strong support Sparks has among some of their Republican constituents. Either Democrat would face an uphill climb in November, but I am not sure of the logic that says Davis clearly had a November advantage over Sparks.

As a postscript, I’ll grant that Sparks’ gambling-themed gubernatorial platform could skew that equation a bit.

26 comments to Considering Two Early Assumptions of the Governor’s Race

  • Anonymous

    Sparks made a big deal out of being for Obamacare and welcomed the support of convicted criminal Don Siegelman. Sounds like two points to hammer home in November for GOP.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll add this. It’s exactly why GOP is salivating a run against Sparks in November.

  • Common Sense

    Davis problem was that he didn’t listen to a lot of people who are a lot smarter than him.

  • princeliberty

    Davis would have been disaster for the Democrats. Sparks is less bad though not good for Democrats.

    Byrne is nervous as he awakens the recount. He will win after a ugly fight against James but will be smashed by Bentley.

  • Rush

    Saprks has a great issue that will polarize voters. Most of the state is fine with gambling plus they are struggling financially. That spells trouble for the Republican candidate whoever it is.

    If its Byrne then Sparks will tie him to Riley and the task force which is majority of Alabamians are sick of. Byrne is the slick politician going against a man of the peopple.

    I think Bentley would be the hardest candidate for Sparks to run against because he has a clean conservative record. Go negative against a nice clean cut guy and you shoot yourself in the process.

    Sparks has won 2 statewide elections already which means that a lot of people in Alabama are already used to voting for him. Republicans will have to change the minds of those people in order to win.

  • SamfordDem

    I have to disagree strongly with you on Davis, Danny. He could have gotten away with running to the right on some issues and against some traditionally Democratic interest groups, but he ran to the right on every issue except Constitutional Reform and against every traditional Democratic interest group in Alabama. It takes a lot of hubris to think you can win solely on the basis of your own appeal, without at least some tested organizations behind you.

    Sparks’ campaign was mostly a disorganized mess and he still beat a sitting US Congressman with a huge fundraising and polling advantage 2-1; Davis simply ran a fundamentally misguided campaign that catered to a base (anti-AEA, anti-Health reform, pro-constitutional reform Democrats) that didn’t actually exist. Even his most ardent upper-middle class supporters in Crestwood and Forest Park lost some enthusiasm over his health care vote.

  • SamfordDem, I’m not sure how much we disagree. My observation was that he appeared to be trying to position himself strongly for the general election, and I don’t think staking out an anti-AEA, anti-Health reform position would hurt him in the general election. I think we both agree that it didn’t help him win the nomination at all, and that he could have done things differently to have a better chance at the nomination (and which I believe would have also made winning the general election tougher for him).

  • Anonymous

    Sparks has multiple issues that make Republicans view him as the better choice. His link to the gambling interests is only part of the battle. Let’s not forget that there may be indictments of folks close to him between now and November. I assure that Republicans will make a better issue of the mystery $500,000 than Davis did. Then there are the endorsements from felons. moreover the racial politics is neutralized for the general election. While I don’t think the race is going to be as easy as many believe, Sparks is a gift to Republicans.

  • AntiRepugnican

    As a Dem I will work to make sure Sparks is defeated badly in Nov. I would rather have another stupid Repug

  • Anonymous

    Rush: You say that Bentley has clean conservative record. What are you basing that on? I’m not sure the facts will bear that one out…

  • Mr. Conservative

    Anonymous, I agree with what you said. I think the Republican nominee for governor will win in November (whether Byrne or Bentley)–look at the vote totals in each primary yesterday (487,000 for GOP versus 313,000 for Democrats) that is a HUGE difference. That is not to say there will not be some switchover, but 150,000 is a lot to expect.

    That said, Sparks can count on several constituencies as gimmees: blacks, union members, pro-gamblers, Anti-Riley people, AEA, and to some extent rural voters who like his home-spun, small-town personna.

    Anonymous, who will you be supporting in the run-off?

  • princeliberty

    Bentley is now up by 208 votes going into the recount. And that’s being reported as all boxes being counted. If that’s right James getting 208 plus votes in a low vote multi-candidate race is going to be hard.

  • @MrConservative: How do you reckon that Sparks can count on the black vote?

  • As one who is still holding out hope for Tim James, let me advance to the General Election—-Sparks will stir a high turnout from the Democratic base. I think Sparks will be strong–and that should not be interpreted as a pro-Sparks comment.

  • SamfordDem

    You have to establish yourself as a member of your own party before you can pivot to a general election campaign. Even if Davis had made it through this thing without any primary opposition, he still would have had a hard time in the general because he never convinced the AEA, ADC, or New South why they should vote for him over a Republican, much less another Democrat. That’s how a strong-on-paper candidate can get beaten by an ostensibly weaker candidate in a general (see: John Tyson vs. Troy King).

    Davis pivoted to the general about 4 years ago and never established himself with the Democratic electorate (not just the Party apparatus) in this race.

  • SamfordDem

    ProfessorTom, I would expect that since Sparks apparently won the majority of the black vote in a Democratic primary against a black opponent, he would be able to count on the vast, vast majority of the black vote in a general against a Republican. If you have some type of evidence that suggests this won’t happen, I would be very interested to see it.

  • csduke

    Mr. Conservative–the number of ballots cast in either primary is not the best indicator for turnout in the fall. One of the factors Tuesday is that turnout was lower than most anyone anticipated. Were more Dem voters willing to stay at home? If so, that gap can close. Alongside that, statewide gubernatorial elections have had somewhere between 1.2 and 1.4 million ballots cast over the past few years.

  • princeliberty

    Isn’t this the alltime best showing for a republican turnout relative to the democrats?

  • Gracchus

    Davis may be the first US Rep candidate for governor in the US who lost his own congressional district badly — for which he has no one to blame but himself. This goes way beyond positioning for the general election. Davis is just completely inept. The fault may be in his egomania — his refusal to listen to anyone — but this isn’t the psychoanalyst’s couch. Davis is simply history.

    As top November, Rush is right that gambling is a polaring issue, and it should be close. Bentley is the much tougher candidate — he has a legit claim to be an outsider, at least by campaign standards. Byrne started off with a great story and a great lead and managed to turn it into trash. He may run a campaign as counter-productive as Davis’. The rest of the R field statewide is much weaker than it should be.

    Edge Republicans, but you never can tell.

  • joe jones

    All the Dems I know crossed over and voted Repub in order to keep Tim James OUT. No one felt strongly enough about Davis to toe the party line. They did feel strongly about not wanting to see James win the election, though.

  • Mr. Conservative

    Good points all. One more question, will the AEA attempt (and succeed at) convincing a lot of Democrats to vote in the GOP run-off for Bentley and against Byrne?

  • Willie

    Everyone underestimated Sparks’chances of beating Davis, but he did. Come this August-September his casino pitch is going to look pretty good to Mobile/Baldwin Counties with their tourism and seafood industries destroyed. Remember, Riley won in 2002 over a wounded candidate by winning Baldwin County.

  • anonymous

    Bentley is beginning to create the sort of buzz that Byrne never has. Look for Bentley to take this runoff.

  • Rush


    You make a fantastic point about Baldwin County. Times are already tough there and then the oil disaster has made it even worse. Desperate times result in desperate measures.

  • anonymous

    Bentley won’t take a salary as governor until Alabama reaches full employment. Neither will Byrne. Oh, Byrne hasn’t made any campaign pledge like that – it’s just since Bradley will never be governor, he won’t ever take a governor’s salary . . .

  • Mr. Conservative

    anonymous, weren’t you the one that predicted Bradley’s demise in the primary?

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