Alabama voters cast ballots in runoff for Senate, statewide offices – Courthouse News Service
In the solidly red Heart of Dixie, the winners of statewide and federal offices are often decided in the primaries.
MOBILE, Ala. (CN) — Perhaps the biggest storyline of Alabama’s election year came on May 24, when incumbent Governor Kay Ivey defeated a crowded field of eight Republican challengers to win the primary election outright without a runoff.
At 77 years old, Ivey is the nation’s oldest governor, but like seven other constitutional officers in the state, she is limited to two terms. She was elected to her first full term in 2018.
Ivey, the former lieutenant governor, ascended to the governor’s office in 2017 upon the resignation of Robert Bentley, who was convicted of two misdemeanors related to an extramarital affair. Alabama has not had a Democratic governor since 2003, when incumbent Don Siegelman was narrowly defeated by Republican Bob Riley.
In the nearly two decades since, Republicans have only consolidated power statewide, capturing not only every office in the executive branch, but also on the state’s appellate courts. Since 2011, Republicans have also controlled a majority of both houses of the Legislature.
Meanwhile, the Alabama Democratic Party has not fielded a viable candidate for statewide or national office since former U.S. Senator Doug Jones in 2017, whose campaign was assisted by allegations his challenger, far-right former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, pursued teenage girls well into his 30s. But Jones himself lasted just one term in office. He was defeated by Senator Tommy Tuberville, a Republican, in 2020.
Aside from that anomaly, in recent years, statewide elections are often decided in the primaries.
For Democrats, Tuesday’s primary runoff election features a single campaign, the race between Yolanda Flowers and Malika Fortier for the gubernatorial nomination to take on Ivey in the general election.
The Republican ballot is where most of the action is, as voters will cast their ballots to replace Republican Senator Richard Shelby, the fourth-longest serving member of the U.S. Senate.
The leading candidate in the May primary election was Katie Britt, Shelby’s former chief of staff who went on to serve four years as the leader of the politically influential Business Council of Alabama. Britt garnered 44.7% of the vote from a field of six candidates, winning in 62 of Alabama’s 67 counties. Her runoff opponent is conservative firebrand Mo Brooks, a six-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, who is best known for his adamant defense of former President Donald Trump.
Brooks, whose campaign was at one point endorsed by Trump, notably stood by the former president as he contested the results of the 2020 election, even making a speech at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, on the Ellipse, in which he encouraged “American patriots” to “start taking down names and kicking ass” just before the Capitol riot. Brooks has since been subpoenaed by the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol, but has refused to cooperate.
Trump has since distanced himself from Brooks. In March, the former president publicly rescinded his endorsement of Brooks and, after the primary election, threw his support behind Britt. In a statement earlier this month, Trump expressed displeasure with recent statements Brooks made suggesting voters should “move on” beyond the 2020 election, while he characterized Britt as a “fearless America First Warrior.”
Brooks claims the results of the primary election were skewed by Democrats. Alabama permits voters, regardless of political affiliation, to choose either the Republican or Democratic ballot at the primary polling place.
But if campaign finance records are any indication, Britt also has far more support from both individual contributors and political action committees. According to the Federal Election Commission, Britt has accepted more than $7.3 million in contributions, compared to slightly more than $3 million contributed to Brooks’ campaign.
Even with the disparity, airwaves across the state have been inundated with attack ads targeting both candidates in recent weeks. It’s one of the issues that compelled voter Powell Hamlin to the polls Tuesday morning.
“I heard there was going to be a low turnout so I thought I would do my part,” he said. “There are a lot of issues, but we need to hurry up and get these dadgum ads off the radio and television so we can pay more attention to the real news.”
Hamlin is a small business owner who operates a landmark diner in Mobile called the Dew Drop Inn, but he said he tends to keep his business separate from his politics. He wouldn’t disclose for whom he voted, but emphasized he is not persuaded by endorsements.
“[Endorsements] don’t matter to me,” he said. “I got my favorite people … I look for somebody who is dedicated to the people. I do vote Republican and look for people who are new to the game and have fresh ideas.”
Not far behind Hamlin at the polling place at 3 Circle Church in midtown Mobile was Jerry Wilson. He said Shelby is leaving big shoes to fill and without naming his preferred Senate candidate, suggested he is also indifferent to endorsements, but favors more moderate Republicans in Congress.
“I believe we need somebody up there to really influence other senators, even across the aisle, to have a little reason,” Wilson said. “Right now we don’t have reason in the Senate.”
The winner of Tuesday’s GOP runoff for the Senate seat will face Democrat Will Boyd in the general election on Nov. 8. Boyd is a Florence-based pastor who was previously elected to the City Council in Greenville, Illinois. Boyd recently issued a statement indicating support for the state’s LGBTQ population, adding his goal in the campaign is “the same as it is in the pulpit every Sunday, to love the people I’m serving unconditionally.” Boyd has raised about $37,000 in contributions this cycle, according to FEC records.
The Alabama Secretary of State’s Office reported just 23% of the state’s 3.6 million registered voters cast a ballot in the May 24 primary election. Even fewer were expected today.
Republican Secretary of State John Merrill, who will reach the limits of his two terms this year and is not eligible for reelection, said a total of 2,066,800 Alabamians have registered to vote since he took office in January 2015. At the same time, about 1.45 million names have been removed from the voter rolls because of a change of location, death or a disqualifying felony conviction.
“We’ve broken every record in the history of the state for voter participation, and that’s in every major election we’ve had since we started,” Merrill told Courthouse News on Monday, adding 62% of registered voters cast a ballot in the November 2020 general election.
Elsewhere down the Republican ballot on Tuesday, first-term State Representative Wes Allen squares off with outgoing State Auditor Jim Ziegler for Merrill’s position of secretary of state. Allen represents Dale and Pike counties in the Legislature. Previously, he was a probate judge for 10 years in Pike County. Ziegler, who finished first in the primary election with 43% of the vote, has been recognized in South Alabama for leading a campaign against tolls for a proposed new Interstate 10 bridge over the Mobile River and Mobile Bay.
The secretary of state serves as the executive notary, but also has supervisory duties over statewide elections and business records. The winner of the Republican runoff will face Democrat Pamela J. Laffitte and Libertarian Jason “Matt” Shelby in November’s general election.
Two of the state’s three incumbent public service commissioners are also fighting for reelection, after Place 1 incumbent Jeremy Oden only secured 34% of the vote in a field of four candidates, and Place 2 incumbent Chip Beeker won just 43% of the vote in a field of three candidates. They face Brent Woodall and Robert McCollum, respectively, on Tuesday’s ballot.
Generally, the public service commission was established to regulate certain utilities and transportation providers in the state, including electricity providers Alabama Power and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The Democratic party fielded no candidates for either seat.
Finally, two Republican candidates seek to succeed Ziegler as state auditor. State Representative Andrew Sorrell of House District 3 — representing Colbert, Lauderdale and Lawrence counties in North Alabama — faces Stan Cooke, an evangelical pastor from the city of Kimberly in Jefferson County. Sorrell led the balloting in May with 39% of the vote, while Cooke finished closely behind with 32% of the vote in a field of three candidates.
Polls are open until 7 p.m. Central time.
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