Putting the Democratic race in perspective
By By Steve Flowers
Last week, I handicapped the Republican gubernatorial primary. This week we will examine the Democratic race for governor. These two party primaries are very different.
First of all you will not see the prolonged six week runoff period in the Democratic primary. With only two candidates vying for the nomination a winner will emerge on June 1. Secondly, this primary contest has not been a benign Sunday school picnic like the GOP primary.
The two combatants, Artur Davis and Ron Sparks, have taken off the gloves. Sparks has ignited and initiated the sparks in this free for all. He has openly insulted and lambasted Davis at every available opportunity and without impunity at every open candidate’s forum. The Republican field has observed these overt barbs being hurled by these two Democrats with dignified amusement.
Sparks has taken the obvious path offered to the underdog. The only way to overcome the frontrunner is to attack, attack, attack. However, Davis does not sit idly by and take it. He hurls insidious insults back at Sparks. It has been as abrasive and negative as the GOP race has been cordial and civil. The Sparks vs. Davis brawl has not been civil. It can best be described as a Civil War, a slugfest, or a good old fashioned family feud.
The Democratic primary is generally made up of about 50 percent African American voters and 50 percent white voters. A good many of the white Democrats in the state are found in rural Alabama and the majority of these voters are in North Alabama. Ron Sparks is appealing to these folks. He is indeed a rural Democrat from vote rich rural North Alabama. Sparks is from DeKalb County and grew up with the stars of the legendary band Alabama. He has a rural demeanor and appearance with the accompanying twang and diction. He is appropriately our current Agriculture Commissioner. A job he has done well in and would prefer to keep but is prohibited by a two-term constitutional limitation.
This race will be closer than most so-called experts predict. Most are suggesting an Artur Davis cakewalk. Some pollsters hired by Davis are saying he has a 20 to 30 point lead. They will wake up with egg on their face on June 2.
Davis will probably prevail by about a 54 to 46 margin. It would be even closer if it were not for the fact that there are just not that many good statewide races in the Democratic primary. The Davis vs. Sparks contest is the only interesting race. The GOP race for governor is the marquee event and will siphon off a large number of white Democratic primary participants. This will hurt Sparks.
Many Alabama Democrats fear that Davis’ candidacy will be a nightmarish albatross to the other Democratic candidates in the fall. They are concerned about straight ticket voting taking down incumbent Democratic senators, legislators and judges. I do not buy into this down ballot straight ticket demise. Alabama voters know how to split their ballots. They have done it with sophisticated diversification for decades.
However, I do see a long-term dissolution of lifetime Democratic loyalty slipping away when they desert the party of their grandfathers and choose a GOP primary ballot for governor on June 1. It is another proverbial nail in the Democratic coffin in Alabama.
A good many powerful lawmakers now come from the North Alabama conservative Democratic stable. The most powerful state senators are now moderate to conservative Democrats from North Alabama. The list includes, Lowell Barron, Roger Bedford, Jim Preuitt, Zeb Little, Tom Butler and Hinton Mitchem.
Mitchem, who has represented his Sand Mountain constituency for 30 years in the State Senate, is retiring. It will be interesting to see if a Republican wins this seat. The outcome will be very telling as to the future of Alabama politics. A GOP win in that district could portend that these other seats held by entrenched icons will fall into the Republican column in future years and generations.
The proof in the pudding will be in North Alabama because this is where most of the people and voters in the state are located. It is the battleground for control of the House and Senate. This struggle for control of the legislature will be the most contentious and, many contend, most important tug of war in this 2010 election year.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 75 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.