Tomorrow is a new year. Each new year is filled with its own challenges and opportunities. 2022 is particularly interesting because this is the year that Alabama votes for Governor. It is not a presidential year, but there are a lot of offices on the ballot, including the state constitutional officers, one U.S. Senator, seven congressional representatives, two state Supreme Court Justices, district attorneys, judges, sheriffs, county commissioners, county school superintendents, county school boards, as well as members of the state Democratic Executive Committee and the state Republican Executive Committee. Major party qualifying does not end until Jan. 28, so it is still early, but here are the top 10 races to watch as the Alabama political season heats up.
Incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey (R) is wildly popular, the economy is great, the state is growing, wages are rising, and jobs are plentiful. In fact, job growth and economic opportunities have never been stronger at any time in Alabama since World War II than under Ivey. Why then are Lynda Blanchard, Jim Zeigler, Dean Odle, Lews Burdette, Tim James, Stacey George, and possibly more Republicans challenging a popular incumbent in a GOP Primary?
The five oldest governors in the country are Tom Wolf, at 73 years and 1 month, Janet Mills turns 74 on Monday, Henry McMaster, at 74 years and 6 months, Mike DeWine at 74 years and 11 months, and Kay Ivey 77 years and 2 months. Ivey is already the oldest governor in the nation by 27 months. She will turn 78 before the November election. Elderly Americans keep setting new benchmarks for how long they can stay in the workforce. Joe Biden is the best example of this. Biden is the oldest President in American history at age 79 years and one month and plans to run again in 2024 in his eighties.
Ivey, at the end of this term, will have served five years and nine months as governor. There are growing whispered concerns in political circles that Ivey either is unable or unwilling to meet the demands of the job for another four years. Ivey’s public events have become fewer and fewer and her press events occur less and less frequently. Can Ivey at age 77 do three and four campaign stops per day, six days per week for the next five months, while still governing the state? There is growing skepticism over the Governor’s health and fitness, both presently and in two, three or four years from now. Some conservatives are still upset with Ivey about the 2020 forced economic shutdowns, the mask order in July 2020, and the 2019 gas tax increase – which is costing Alabamians 40 cents per gallon at the pump. Will Republican primary voters remember any of this in May and will they care?
The question is not if Ivey will have a GOP challenger, but instead if any of the host of challengers are really a viable alternative?
Of the challengers, only Zeigler has ever held a statewide office before. Blanchard is a self-made millionaire, philanthropist, and former ambassador. James is a former Governor’s son and successful businessman in his own right. George is a former Morgan County Commissioner. Odle is a pastor and evangelist who opposes vaccines. Burdette is President of the King’s Home.
U.S. Senate race
Who will replace the retiring Richard Shelby (R) in the U.S. Senate has been a question that has drawn national media attention.
Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL05) has been the frontrunner, as he has a dozen years of experience in Congress, and he has the endorsement of former President Donald J. Trump (R). But the Freedom Caucus co-founder has alienated many in the GOP establishment in Washington and Montgomery with his strident positions. Montgomery insiders question if Brooks is too wed to his conservative ideology to be an effective Senator in a state where tens of thousands of jobs are dependent on government contracts.
Former Business Council of Alabama (BCA) President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt has capitalized on dissatisfaction with Brooks and is running away with the fundraising battle. Critics of Britt point out that she has never held public office before and may be too influenced by the privileged 1% of the corporate elites that she represented at BCA and who are largely responsible for her fundraising success.
Mike Durant is a veteran and businessman. He is a true American war hero and a great American success story, but some question if it would be easy for Durant to distance himself from his company as a defense contractor if he were elected to the Senate.
Jessica Fair Taylor is running a distant fourth in early polling while Mike Dunn and Jack Schafer are still struggling to develop any name recognition. Only Brooks has ever held a public office before.
State Legislature races
1819 News talked with conservative activist former State Sen. John Rice (R) about the upcoming legislative races.
“About 95% of the incumbents who run will be re-elected,” Rice predicted grudgingly.
Republican insider, former State Rep. Perry O. Hooper Jr. (R-Montgomery), agreed.
“All of the Republican incumbents should be reelected,” Hooper said. “They did a great job.”
“It's all about the money,” Rice said. “When Mike Hubbard (former Speaker of the House) and Del Marsh (former Senate Pro Tem.) changed the law so that corporations can make unlimited contributions, it made the playing field unfair.”
“They dealt with the prisons, the budgets are great, the economy is strong,” Hooper said. “Credit goes to the leadership, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, Pro Tem Greg Reed, and Will Ainsworth.”
In the state senate, incumbents Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) and Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) “both have announced primary opponents,” Rice said.
Rice is working to help Whatley run for re-election. Rice also predicted that Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Fairhope) will face a strong primary challenge.
“There will be surprises,” Rice said. “There is always somebody you thought was going to be reelected who loses.”
Fifth Congressional District
Mo Brooks is running for U.S. Senate, thus is not running for reelection, thus his Fifth Congressional District will be an open seat.
County Commissioner Dale Strong, former Huntsville School Superintendent and Trump appointee Casey Wardynski, John Roberts, educator and horseman Andy Blalock, Harrison Wright, and Dexter Donnell have all filed paperwork to accept campaign contributions in the race with the Federal Elections Commission to run as Republicans. Kathy Warner-Stanton and Charlie Thompson III have both qualified with the FEC to run as Democrats.
Republicans hope to retain this seat, but it is too early to handicap who will be the Republican nominee in such a crowded field.
Incumbent State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) is term-limited from seeking another term as Auditor and is campaigning for Governor making this an open seat. Already four Republicans: former State Senator Rusty Glover (R-Semmes), attorney Brent Woodall, State Rep. Andrew Sorrell, and pastor Dr. Stan Cooke are running for the Republican nomination for Auditor.
Alabama Supreme Court
Incumbent Associate Justice Mike Bolin (R) is leaving the court at the end of his current term. Longtime Alabama Republican Party legal counsel Greg Cooke and Calhoun County Circuit Judge Debra Jones are both running hard races for the GOP primary nomination.
Public Service Commissioner Place 1
Incumbent PSC Commissioner Jeremy Oden (R) is facing a determined primary challenger in Tallassee Mayor Johnny Hammock. Stephen Ray McLamb is also running. This race is interesting because Oden struggled mightily four years ago versus a challenger, Jim Bonner, who was best known for his racist and misogynist rants on social media. The Alabama Republican Steering Committee had to intervene and announce that they would not let Bonner on the ballot if he won.
Alabama Secretary of State
Incumbent Secretary of State John H. Merrill (R) is term-limited from running again, thus Alabama will swear in a new Secretary of State in Jan. 2023. State Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy) has announced that he is running, as is Republican activist Chris Horne and longtime Secretary of State’s election division employee Ed Packard.
The last time that a congressional incumbent in Alabama was defeated by a challenger in a general election was the 2010 election when Montgomery City Councilwoman Marty Roby (R) unseated Democratic incumbent Bobby Bright in Alabama’s Second Congressional District.
The last time that a congressional incumbent was defeated by a challenger in a primary contest was also the 2010 election when Brooks unseated incumbent Parker Griffith in Alabama's Fifth Congressional District. Griffith had been elected as a moderate Democrat but had switched parties prior to the 2010 election.
Challengers can defeat congressional incumbents in Alabama, but it is a rare occurrence.
Hooper said that challenging one of the five Republican congressional incumbents in this election, “Would be insane.”
At this point according to FEC filings:
Jerry Carl (R-AL01) faces a primary challenger, Peter Alcorn.
Barry Moore (R-AL02) faces a Democratic general election opponent that will be decided by the Democratic primary election between: Phyllis Harvey-Hall, Terell Anderson, Vimal Patel, or Jack Slate.
Mike Rogers (R-AL03) faces a general election challenge from Independent Douglas Bell – if Bell can get enough voter signatures for ballot access.
Robert Aderholt (R-AL04) faces a primary challenger, Joshua Gaddis.
Gary Palmer (R-AL06) does not have an opponent who has filed with the FEC.
Terri Sewell (D-AL07) faces a Republican general election opponent in Beatrice Nichols.
Democratic statewide candidates
The Alabama Democratic Party is having trouble recruiting statewide candidates. Democratic Party candidate qualifying opened back on December 6th. At this point Enterprise businessman Chad “Chig” Martin and Yolanda Rochelle Flowers, who are both running for Governor, are the only two qualifiers for any of the statewide offices. Former Brighton Mayor Brandaun Dean has announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate race but has not yet qualified.
It is likely that Democratic party insiders are secretly putting together a full slate of candidates that have not been announced yet.
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email brandon.moseley@1819News.com.