It appears that 2014 will be a relatively quiet political year in Alabama. While there will be a few races getting attention in the primaries, most of the interest will be in the general election. A number of incumbents, at the state and local levels, will be reelected without opposition.
The Governor’s Race
It appears that Gov. Robert Bentley will cruise through the Republican primary with no difficulty. He will then face Dr. Parker Griffith, who will win the Democratic primary, in the Fall. If the general election was held today Gov. Bentley would be the winner with about 58 percent to 60 percent of the vote according to several polls. Dr. Griffith will have some issues, but that according to the polls play well with Democrats and Independents and even with some Republicans in Alabama.
The Lt. Governor’s Race
James Field, a former state representative from Cullman, will challenge Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey in the general election. If I were Gov. Ivey, I wouldn’t take the Democratic challenger lightly. If he gets adequate funding, this could develop into a fairly close race. James Fields will be a very good candidate and comes from vote-heavy North Alabama. But Gov. Ivey will be able to easily raise campaign funds and that gives her an early advantage.
The Attorney General’s Race
The race for Attorney General will be hotly contested according to several capitol sources. But Luther Strange, the incumbent, clearly has the upper hand. His opponent, Rep. Joe Hubbard, is an aggressive candidate who reportedly has access to significant campaign funds. This is another race where the incumbent won’t be able to “coast” through the election cycle and be reelected. Atty. Gen. Strange will have to work hard to get a second term, but he is clearly a heavy favorite at this juncture.
The U.S. Senate
Jeff Sessions has no opponent and will be re-elected for another term in the U.S. Senate. Jeff has played well to his base and apparently most folks like what they not only hear but receive from him. To his credit, there is never any doubt where this senator stands on any given issue. He is in a position to be even stronger in his next term.
There will be no statewide race for an appellate court position in Alabama this year. The only contested seat was to be on the Criminal Court of Appeals. Incumbent Beth Kellum would have faced Kim Drake in the general election. But the Republican Party kicked the challenger off the ballot for not being “Republican enough.” As a result, Judge Kellum will get a second term. Since Justice Greg Shaw has no opposition, he will return to the Alabama Supreme Court for his second term.
The Congressional Races and Legislative Races will be discussed in the April issue. There will be a few hotly contested races in the legislative races, especially in the Senate. Currently the races for the U.S. House of Representatives, with the exception of the seat being vacated by Spencer Baccus, don’t appear to be generating much interest with the public.
Big Money Interests Zero In On The Races For Secretary Of State
Big money, top strategists and party insiders are getting involved in what could be the most hotly contested 2014 races on the state level — secretary of state. That probably comes as a big surprise. These offices around the country have suddenly captured the attention of some of the country’s major political players. National PACs have been created and multimillion-dollar fundraising plans are being made. The nation’s secretaries of state came to Washington last month for the National Association of Secretaries of State winter conference. Interestingly, during this election year, the “Washington crowd” will be going to them.
Winning these offices could give an edge in the 2016 presidential race to one of the major parties. That’s because secretaries of state run elections, can shape voter ID rules, and create other road blocks for potential voters. When margins are tight, those small differences can mean the difference between a win and a loss. So while some candidates and state parties say they fear the new outside money and players are going to turn these local races into expensive — and nasty — displays. The outsiders, however, say that is a chance worth taking when the stakes are as high as, say, the White House.
While the role of the secretary of state varies from state to state, the officials are primarily tasked with administering elections in their state. For years the importance of that function went pretty much out of the public eye. The Bush-Gore battle in Florida, which resulted in the election of George W. Bush, got the attention of the bosses in both the Democratic and Republican parties. Since then much more attention has been paid to the office of secretary of state, making the office much more important.
The secretary of state serves as the chief election officer in 39 states, oversees the canvassing of election results in 38, and in 24 states receives initiatives and referendum petitions and collects candidate filings and campaign finance disclosure reports. According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, responsibilities of the offices can include everything from shaping and implementing voter registration rules, maintaining state voter rolls, certifying ballot initiative language and certifying elections.
It was reported that since December, three PACs have launched focused entirely on secretary of state races. For example, the conservative super PAC SOS for SoS was founded by Gregg Phillips, a veteran of the pro-Gingrich PAC Winning Our Future. Reportedly, the new PAC hopes to spend $5 million to $10 million in nine key states in 2014: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico and Ohio.
The Republican Secretaries of State Committee, a division of the Republican State Leadership Committee, said it aims to maintain the majority of secretary of state seats it currently holds. At present, 28 out of the 50 secretary of state offices are occupied by Republicans. According to a strategy memo from the RSSC, released to POLITICO, with 18 GOP-held seats up for election in 2014, the group plans to support incumbents in Michigan, Ohio and New Mexico, and to target open races in Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Iowa.
It should be no big surprise to learn that many of the states being targeted just happen to be “battleground states.” The groups are looking to make a difference in contentious races in states that will be important in an open 2016 presidential election. So in the battleground states an office that in many states was virtually ignored will be considered very important this year for reasons stated above.
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