Self-Funders Abound in 2nd District Primary

Posted May 21, 2008 at 5:24pm

It’s turning into a battle of the checkbooks in Alabama’s 2nd district Republican primary, as several of the candidates in the six-way race are investing huge sums of their personal wealth into a contest that appears to be headed for a July runoff.

A search of Federal Election Commission reports and interviews with individual campaigns shows that the total amount of money all the Republican candidates have contributed to their own campaigns this cycle is about double the amount of money they’ve been able to raise from individual donors.

Just this week, state Rep. Jay Love (R), who was a successful restaurant owner before he won election to the Alabama House in 2002, dropped another $100,000 into his campaign. That amount put him across the threshold for the “Millionaires’ Amendment” to kick in with $449,000 in personal contributions to his campaign so far.

But Love isn’t even the top self-funder of the campaign. As of April 30, oral surgeon Craig Schmidtke (R) had given his campaign about $453,000, according to his spokesman.

With less than two weeks before the June 3 primary, the top Republican candidates in the southeast Alabama district appear to be Love and state Sen. Harri Anne Smith. Both jumped into the race last fall, not long after Rep. Terry Everett (R) announced that he would retire at the end of his term.

When Everett ran in the Republican primary in 1992 for the seat that was being vacated by 14-term Rep. Bill Dickinson (R), he won a regional battle that pitted his southeast “wiregrass” base of support against a career politician from Montgomery. This time around, the same dynamic seems to be at play.

Smith hails from the wiregrass area around Dothan. The three-term state Senator lives in Slocomb, where she previously served as mayor and is executive vice president for the Slocomb National Bank. Her campaign spokesman said Wednesday that her pre- primary FEC report was still being completed but acknowledged that Smith had loaned her campaign additional funds since reporting about $18,000 in personal loans on March 31.

Love’s base, meanwhile, is in the city and suburbs of Montgomery. Love has been the most active candidate on television, and he appears intent on keeping it that way. Before his latest campaign loan, he reported $141,000 in cash on hand in his pre-primary campaign report.

But Smith and Love are facing GOP competition in their own backyards. Schmidtke also hails from Dothan and could eat into Smith’s support, while state Rep. David Grimes’ (R) state House district is located near Love’s district in Montgomery.

Meanwhile, television executive David Woods, who was raised in Dothan but lives in Montgomery, can’t be counted out of the mix. So far this cycle, Woods has loaned his campaign $250,000 and reported about $149,000 in cash on hand in his pre-primary filing.

Several Alabama Republican sources said Wednesday that it seems unlikely any one candidate will be able to achieve the majority of votes necessary in the primary to avoid a runoff, so Republicans might not have their nominee until mid-July.

But once that happens, Alabama Republican consultant Jeff Vreeland said he expects fundraising will be easier to come by and the nominee will feel less pressure to make loans to his or her campaign.

“I think you have people being very cautious right now,” said Vreeland, who is not working for any of the candidates in the 2nd district race. “I think a lot of people are holding back with so many candidates. They are going to see what’s going on and what will happen and then pile it in.”

Whoever emerges from the field appears set to face Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright (D). Bright is running as a conservative Democrat in the mold of recently elected Reps. Don Cazayoux (La.) and Travis Childers (Miss.). Both men won special election victories this month in what had been considered safe Republican districts.

Bright, who has the unabashed backing of the Democratic establishment in Alabama and Washington, D.C., is expected to beat his two Democratic challengers with little problem.

Bright did get off to a bit of rocky start this spring when his first-quarter FEC report showed him raising a mere $54,000 after joining the race in late February. But Bright’s pre-primary FEC report has assuaged some of those concerns. As of May 14, he had raised nearly $212,000 and had more than $150,000 in cash on hand.