INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
The Governor’s race is always the marquee event in Alabama politics. That will be especially true this year because the race is wide open. This is the first time that an incumbent governor has not been on the ballot in 20 years.
However, the Republican primary for attorney general may very well be as interesting and competitive as any contest on the ballot this year. The winner of this battle royale between incumbent Troy King and challenger Luther Strange will be the odds on favorite to take home all the marbles in the fall.
Alabama voters have tended to favor a Republican in the Attorney General’s office for two decades now.
Troy King is facing the toughest challenge of his young political life. He has been attorney general for over six years having ascended to the post when Bill Pryor was appointed to the federal bench.
King was appointed by Gov. Bob Riley to fill Pryor’s unexpired term as attorney general. Prior to that Riley had made King his legal advisor.
King had very little courtroom experience when he was named attorney general. However, in 2006 he won the office on his own by defeating his current nemesis Mobile District Attorney John Tyson.
This term has been tough for King to say the least. Probably no statewide elected official has been lambasted and criticized anymore than King during this quadrennium.
King has been embroiled in so many controversies that it is hard to know where to begin. He has openly feuded with his political benefactor Bob Riley. Their conflict has escalated to epic proportions over the recent electronic bingo debacle.
Earlier King had to recuse himself from the probe of the junior college corruption scandal because he had asked the post-secondary Chancellor Roy Johnson to help find a job in the system for an employee’s mother about the time that the scandal erupted. This led to King becoming the subject of a federal grand jury probe.
He was under close scrutiny for over a year and if that was not enough while all of this adverse publicity was being thrown at him he became the subject of an aggressive vicious Internet rumor mill.
This would be enough to break most folks. However, the 41 year old King has weathered the storm. The grand jury came back with no cause to indict. He then finally came off the sidelines and got involved in the bingo issue.
King has come across as more reasonable and statesmanlike than the Governor and his deputy John Tyson. As Riley’s numbers have fallen during the issue, King’s have risen.
King has stayed the course during all the negative adversity of the past three years. He has not let his detractors deter him. He is considered the best retail politician on Goat Hill.
He also appears to have a Teflon personality with voters. Polling revealed that even during the height of King’s troubles he polled well. It appears that the so-called Wal-Mart Republicans like King. Therefore, the Country Club Republicans like his opponent Luther Strange.
Big Luther Strange stands 6’9” tall. He is a 56 year old Birmingham attorney but has spent most of his adult working life as a Washington lobbyist for corporate clients. During his years in Washington he developed close friendships with our two Republican U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions.
In a very rare move these two senators openly endorsed Strange in the attorney general’s race. However, it remains to be seen whether these endorsements are helpful. Alabamians have tended to ignore endorsements from other politicians meddling in other races even if the endorser is popular.
Big Luther came on the scene four years ago and built big time name identification with a ton of money in his race for lt. governor. He beat George Wallace Jr. for the Republican nomination and it looked very much like he was going to beat the other scion of Alabama political legacy Jim Folsom Jr. in the general election.
In the closest race in 2006, Folsom edged out Strange by an eyelash. Many attribute Folsom’s razor thin margin to a late television ad showing himself hunting in rural Alabama, while Luther was playing tennis at the Mountain Brook Country Club.
If only a handful of voters had fallen Strange’s way in 2006 he would be the frontrunner for governor today. Instead, he has chosen to challenge King who he perceives as very vulnerable.
He will exploit King’s weaknesses in the campaign. He has plenty of ammunition. Both men have sufficient funds to spend on television ads and are in a dead heat in polling. It should be a good race.
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.