A Look at Alabama

Posted February 9, 2004 at 6:38pm

While Alabama is not expected to be a hotbed of political activity in 2004, the Yellowhammer State does provide two of the best illustrations of intimidation via fundraising muscle this cycle. [IMGCAP(1)]

Sen. Richard Shelby (R), insulated by a whopping $11 million war chest as of Dec. 31, 2003, is expected to face only nominal opposition as he seeks a fourth term in November. Birmingham resident Johnny Swanson III (D) , a retired security consultant, launched a long-shot bid against Shelby this week.

However, the biggest threat facing Shelby, who switched parties in 1994, is persistent speculation about the future plans of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.

“I’ve heard he might for president, he might run for Senate, he might run for Congress, state Supreme Court,” said Alabama Republican Party Executive Director Chris Brown, referring to the gamut of the speculation about Moore’s plans. “He’s an unpredictable man.”

The most widely circulated scenario has him challenging Shelby in a GOP primary, though Moore has given no indication that he will actually run.

Moore was ousted from the bench amid his refusal to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from inside the Supreme Court building, and since then he has been a conservative icon. A Mobile Register/University of South Alabama poll in November showed Moore and Shelby in a virtual dead heat.

Meanwhile, in the House, no Democrat has yet to come forward to challenge freshman Rep. Mike Rogers (R), who eeked out a narrow victory in the Anniston-based 3rd district in 2002.

Rogers was among the top three freshmen fundraisers in the House last year, raising $1.1 million in 2003 with $739,000 left in the bank on Dec. 31.

Democrats still hold some hope that Circuit Court Judge Joel Laird (D) will decide to challenge Rogers before the state’s April 2 filing deadline, but prospects for a competitive race are fading fast. Laird has a high profile in the district and is from Rogers’ base of Anniston.

Other potential Democratic challengers mentioned include Tom Whatley, a restaurateur, Army reservist and chief counsel to Alabama Public Service Commissioner Jan Cook, and former state party Chairman Joe Turnham, who lost to Rogers 50 percent to 48 percent in 2002.

As far as potential candidates down the road, Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright (D) and state Rep. Richard Lindsey (D) are viewed as rising stars in the state party, as is Stephen Black — the nephew of the late Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black — who ran for state treasurer unsuccessfully in 2002.

As with many other states, redistricting has snuffed out much of the competition in the state’s seven House districts. Aside from the 3rd, the only other remotely competitive district in the state is the northern 5th district, represented since 1990 by Rep. Bud Cramer (D).

Amid persistent speculation that Cramer, a conservative Blue Dog, might switch parties, he was granted a coveted seat on the Intelligence Committee in late 2002.

Cramer has not seen a competitive race since the mid-1990s, and he is likely to hold the seat as long as he wants it. However, Republicans would see a dream race if Moore became a candidate. Moore lives just outside of the Huntsville-based district, but he is extremely popular in his home region.

“He would be the most viable candidate we could have to beat Bud Cramer right now,” said one Republican in the state.

Still, the GOP’s best shot at taking the seat will likely be when Cramer, now the longest-serving Member in the House delegation, leaves Congress. George W. Bush beat then-Vice President Al Gore by 10 points there in the 2000 presidential election.

“Once it’s an open seat, we’d have to take a look at it,” Brown said.

Madison County Commissioners Mo Brooks and Dale Strong, as well as state Reps. Lynn Greer, Mike Ball and Ray Garner, would be among the leading Republicans who would seek an open seat there.

Democrats hold a majority in both the Alabama state House and Senate, and when Cramer retires party strategists believe a state legislator with the right profile could hold the seat. Still, they admit it will be tough.

Meanwhile, Republican state legislators are lining up in the solidly Republican 2nd and 6th districts, should Terry Everett or Spencer Bachus choose to vacate their seats in the near future.

In Everett’s southeastern 2nd district, state Sen. Larry Dixon (R) is among the top tier of candidates who would look at the race. Dixon was defeated by Everett in a 1992 primary.

Other state legislators who could look to move up to the heavily Republican House seat include State Sen. Harri Anne Smith and state Reps. Warren Beck, Steve Clouse, Mac Gipson and Dick Brewbaker.

In Bachus’ central 6th district, the most Republican in the state, the list of state legislators is even longer. It includes state Sens. Hank Erwin, Steve French, Curt Lee and Jabo Waggoner and state Reps. Jim McClendon, Jim Carns, Cam Ward and Bobby Humphryes. Former state Sen. Bill Armistead is also mentioned as a potential House candidate in the 6th.

As political domino effects go, the line of candidates is expected to be equally as long whenever one of the state’s GOP-held Senate seats opens up. Aside from any of the state’s Republican Congressmen, state Treasurer Kay Ivy and state Auditor Beth Chapman are among those mentioned as potential candidates. State Attorney General Bill Pryor (R), whose nomination to the 11th District Court of Appeals is currently being held up in the Senate, is another potential statewide candidate mentioned down the road.

Meanwhile, Reps. Jo Bonner (R) and Artur Davis (D), who were just elected in 2002, look likely to hold their respective seats for as long as they want.

Bonner or Davis, who defeated then-Rep. Earl Hilliard (D) in a nasty primary battle, could be vulnerable in a primary, but that appears to be an unlikely prospect for either at the present time.