Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Digital Roundtable Election 2010: Sparks vs. Bentley: It’s on!

  Capital City Free Press founder and publisher Joseph O. Patton and managing editor Josh Carples have appeared as election/political analysts for several River Region talk radio programs. Today they were guests on “First Call” hosted by Kevin Elkins, WLWI 1440 AM, and discussed the results of the Tuesday run-off election and previewed some of the races for November. The following is an expanded discussion of the governor’s race.

Patton: The only thing that surprised me here was just how far Robert Bentley pulled away from Byrne considering Byrne was the front-runner in the initial primary vote. I believe voters were turned off by Byrne’s incessant attacks on Paul Hubbert and the Alabama Education Association. After all, if you caught any of his television ads, you’d nearly forget that Bentley, and not Hubbert, was his opponent for the nomination. It may also be an indication that Alabama voters are not in the mood for negative campaigning this election cycle. Also, Bob Riley and other top Republicans must feel a little stung considering how their endorsement of Byrne had no impact.

  What other factors do you believe were in play here? Also, given that top Republicans’ endorsement of Byrne fell flat, do you this is an indication that voters will again ignore high-profile political testimonials in November?

Carples: I think one other factor may have been endorsements from the Tim James and Roy Moore supporters. Specifically, regarding Moore supporters backing Bentley, it is not really surprising considering that Moore ran against Bob Riley four years ago. If Moore was unhappy enough with Riley’s leadership four years ago to run against him, it would make sense for his supporters to shy away from Byrne, who had Riley’s endorsement.

   Of course, that doesn’t mean other high-profile endorsements won’t matter later in the general election campaign.

Patton: We’re in for one of the most competitive gubernatorial races Alabama has seen in a while. Although recent history favors the Republican nominee, I think Ron Sparks has the appeal, issue stances and gravitas to take this one down to the wire. Consider the following:

1) Sparks - by virtue of his time as Agriculture Commissioner has better name recognition than Bentley. Many voters, even in the Republican primary, were unaware that Bentler had served in the Alabama Legislature, much less aware of his primary vocation, dermatology.

2) Bentley has shown that he has difficulty raising money, plus he’s even deeper in the hole than Sparks because Sparks didn’t have to continue spending big bucks to fight in a run-off. Regardless of how appealing your stances and experience may be to voters, if you don’t have the resources to tell them about it, it doesn’t have much of an impact.

3) Though previous Republican nominees have found openings to write off the Democrat as “liberal” or as a “Washington insider,” those claims are not going to stick in this match-up. Sparks has genuine populist, home-grown appeal. And due to his time as Agriculture Commissioner it would stand to reason that he has made in-roads with traditionally Republican-leaning voters, namely individuals involved in the agriculture industry and who live in rural areas.

  Do you think these factors will have an impact and make this race more competitive? Also, what do you think are Bentley’s biggest positive attributes?

Carples: I agree on all three counts. It looks like the race will be very competitive. I think one thing that will continue to grab people’s attention for Bentley is his promise not to take a salary as governor until “full employment” is reached. However, Sparks’ experience as Agriculture Commissioner, as you say, will help him be seen more favorable among rural voters.

Patton: A few interesting things to watch will be how voters respond to Bentley being more and more exposed. A benefit of being a so-called “dark horse” as Bentley has been described in the Republican primary, is that it naturally comes with a high positive rating simply because the individual hasn’t been thoroughly scrutinized by the media or voters yet. As reporters start digging through his legislative voting record, what are they going to find, and how will voters’ opinion of him be shaped as a result?

Carples: That is a good question. Byrne tried to tie him in with the legislature’s unpopular 62 percent pay raise, saying that while he voted against it, he still accepted it. One thing voters may wonder is that if he accepted the pay raise as a legislator, why would he reject a salary as governor?

Patton: Another prime factor is how Sparks’ gambling proposals will be received. People are quick to point out that Don Siegelman’s Alabama Education Lottery proposal went down in flames, but Sparks’ approach is much broader and encompasses casino gambling. This is also a different economic climate where jobs are scarce and college tuition continues to skyrocket.

  I’m inclined to believe that voters will find a lottery scholarship program more appealing now that they see that the exorbitant costs of getting a college education aren’t going to decline any time soon. Also, with unemployment so high, I would venture to say that voters will also be more friendly to the idea of casino gambling merely due to the jobs it will create as well as the secondary businesses it will bring with it. Voters can have their moral or religious hang-ups about gambling, but when it comes down to having a casino job versus no job at all, or a shrinking tax base that can’t support basic services versus a huge flow of revenue from taxing casinos, that’s not a tough call to make….

Carples: I think a lot of opinions regarding gambling may have changed since Siegelman was in office. Even now, remembering conversations I have had with people who are against gambling, they seem to be more against government-sanctioned gambling, such as a lottery, rather than a private business like VictoryLand or GreeneTrack. So even if the lottery idea were to fail again, people may be open to taxing and regulating private gaming business as a way to bring in more money to the state.

Patton: Given the economy and scarcity of jobs, it appears that job creation and retention will be at the forefront in this race. Who do you think is putting forth the more feasible plan to create jobs? And who do you think is doing the better job of selling that plan at this time?

Carples: As of right now, Bentley seems to have put forth more information on his jobs plan, putting a 46-page .pdf document on his web site listing his ideas. Sparks’ plan, at least according to his campaign web site, focuses on infrastructure – roads and bridges – and gaming to help with economic development and jobs.

   Both campaigns will have to vocalize those details and focus more on selling their ideas in the lead-up to November, though.

  Visit the Capital City Free Press tomorrow as we continue analyzing the run-off results and previewing the general election races!

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