From the State House
Politics never ends in Alabama.
The governor's race every four years is the brass ring and the speculation as to who will run and who will win starts early.
The jockeying has begun and so has the handicapping of the favorites by the political insiders in Montgomery.
Let me share with you a theory and indeed a trend that portends victory in the Alabama governor's race. Over the last 20 years, the key to victory is to avoid a tough bruising intra party struggle for your party's nomination.
A look at the history will reveal my prognosis. Obviously the intra party brawl between Democrats Bill Baxley and Charlie Graddick in 1986 was a factor.
In fact, it was the only factor. When the Democratic party hierarchy went behind closed doors and chose Baxley to be the nominee, when he did not get the most votes, gave the election to an unknown Republican Guy Hunt. Alabamians reacted ferociously to this travesty of injustice and voted overwhelmingly for the first GOP governor since Reconstruction.
In 1990, the eventual Democratic nominee Paul Hubbert had to fight through a primary of heavyweights, including Don Siegelman, to get the nomination. He was so broke and beat up that Hunt won reelection.
Hubbert was determined to run again in 1994, even though Democrat Jim Folsom, Jr. had ascended to the Governor's office after Guy Hunt was convicted. Folsom had to spend a ton of money to beat Hubbert in the primary. Fob James had token primary opposition and beat a battered Folsom by a slight margin in the general election. Most observers agree that a fresh Folsom would have won.
The shoe was on the other foot in 1998. The Republicans shot themselves in the foot. A bruising primary battle between moderate Republican Winton Blount, Jr. and incumbent Fob James was bitter. James prevailed but he was battered and he and Blount did not make up. Blount refused to endorse James and the bad blood poisoned the Republican pool and allowed Don Siegelman to win the governorship as a Democrat.
Siegelman and Riley escaped tough primary opposition and skated to early nomination in 2002, which resulted in a very close general election.
In 2006, the example of intra party fighting created the demise of Republican lt. governor candidate Luther Strange and Chief Justice nominee Drayton Nabors. They both had tough primary races which caused them to deplete their war chests. They had to start from scratch and allowed their challengers, Sue Bell Cobb and Jim Folsom, to match them dollar for dollar in the general election.
A contentious Democratic primary is looming between Congressman Artur Davis and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. Neither will have a waltz to their party's nomination.
Governor Bob Riley cannot run again and the growth of the Republican party creates the probability of a volatile primary on the GOP side as well.
The puzzling aspect of the 2010 governor's race is the lack of participants on the Republican side, especially given the fact that the winner of the primary will probably emerge as the favorite.
Expect to see Bradley Byrne and Roy Moore enter the fray in the next few weeks. Byrne hopes to be the business community's candidate. Moore hopes to garner the religious right. Tim James, the only announced candidate thus far, has worked tirelessly for the past 15 months to entrench support among both of these wings of the Republican party.
Pundits and prognosticators have written James off as an also ran. I do not dismiss him so lightly. He has a lot of money to spend. He has over a year head start on the field and he will be the most photogenic candidate in the race now that Folsom has opted out.
I suspect that when all is said and done, Byrne and Moore will not be the only new entrants on the GOP stage between now and the Fourth of July. Regardless of how many join in the chase, remember my theory. The primary that gets the bitterest and nastiest will suffer in the fall.
My theory is called the beat up and broke theory. After you have been through a tough battle, you are beat up and broke.
Just ask any girl who she wants to dance with at the prom. The guy who is fresh, cleaned up and has plenty of money or the one who appears with a black eye, torn shirt, bleeding lip and his pockets hanging out and broke.
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 contacted at www.steveflowers.us.