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Alabama governor's race high awaited

By By Steve Flowers
We Alabamians enjoy our politics almost as much as we love our college football and the Governor's race every four years is almost as eagerly anticipated as the Auburn vs. Alabama game. It is like an extra Christmas every four years. We start handicapping the possible candidates three years out and the field is usually set one year out. However, if you believe the polling data there will be no surprises for Christmas this year. It is like our parents have told us what Santa Claus is bringing us.
Polls indicate that Gov. Bob Riley is riding a freight train to victory which may be of landslide proportions. He has had an overwhelming financial advantage over his challenger, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, and has run a well organized campaign with his monetary edge. Gov. Riley has led in the polls the entire way, which is why the big contributions have fallen his way.
If Riley receives the most votes on Tuesday then he will be the first Governor to win reelection in the last four gubernatorial contests. The past three have seen the incumbent turned out. It has been political party musical chairs. If Lucy Baxley pulls off the upset she will become our second female Governor and the only one elected completely on her own merits.
When Lucy Baxley decided to enter the race and challenge the incumbent governor it was fifteen months ago. The prevailing view among political experts was that she would probably beat Riley. Their numbers were even in head to head polls and her negatives were negligible while Riley had almost a 20% negative rating. So given the figures and the situation at the time she had to pull the trigger in mid 2005 and she made the logical choice.
I do not know whether it was the event or not but there is a direct correlation to Riley's popularity skyrocketing and Hurricane Katrina. After his handling of the hurricane and the evacuation, he took off and has never looked back. The strong state of Alabama's economy has also helped to catapult and maintain what appears to be an insurmountable lead heading into Tuesday's election.
If the polls are right Riley will win by a double digit margin. In my opinion, if he goes over 55% there will be a coattail effect. The down ballot races, like Secretary of State, Agriculture Commissioner, and Public Service Commissioner, where there are incumbent democrats in office could be adversely affected. You could conceivably have a sweep of all statewide offices by the Republican Party. The Supreme Court is now already all republican. Four of the nine seats are up for grabs and all four republicans are favored and have had a significant spending advantage over their challengers. The best democratic chance for a judicial seat is the race for Chief Justice with Sue Bell Cobb, one of the best democratic horses in the stable, challenging Drayton Nabers. However, a Riley landslide could very well thwart this challenge but the biggest fallout may be in the Lt. Governor's race.
Republican Luther Strange has to be helped immensely by a Riley landslide. Strange has tied his campaign to Riley's since day one and is betting on a republican sweep. If Luther Strange beats Jim Folsom Jr. he will have slain the two heirs of the greatest political names in state history on his way to the Lt. Governor's chair. He will have lain to rest the Wallace and Folsom legacies. However, this one will be a horse race. It is a dead heat and Folsom may have an advantage in momentum. The Luther Strange juggernaut may not get over a well financed Jim Folsom Jr. Whoever wins the Lt. Governor's race between Folsom and Strange will be at the top of the list for aspirants to Governor in 2010. Neither Riley nor Baxley will be on the ballot.
If the landslide plays out and a sweep occurs the question has to be asked is the Democratic Party through in Alabama? The democrats have a slate of candidates which is premier and some would say stellar. If they get wiped out what is the future of the party in the state?
We will have a lot of questions answered on Tuesday. As always it will be fun and exciting to watch.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.