Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gary Palmer: Another view on the 2010 Alabama Primaries

  The June 1 state primary elections may have marked an historic point in Alabama politics and set the stage for a major political realignment.

  Artur Davis’s campaign for the Democrat gubernatorial nomination garnered most of the attention. Davis, who gave up a secure seat in Congress to run for governor, was as articulate, intelligent and well-qualified a candidate as any the Democrats have had on their ballot. Because he was the first black candidate widely perceived to be a front-runner in the race to become governor, there was tremendous anticipation about his candidacy. But he went down in defeat with only 38 percent of the primary vote.

  In a general election, the margin of defeat probably would not have been too surprising when you remember that Obama achieved victory with less than 39 percent of the vote in 2008. Political experts would have written about how Alabama is still a backward state that clings to its guns and religion and someone would have at least hinted that Alabamians are latent racists. But Ron Sparks won the Democrat primary with overwhelming black support, winning in all but six of Alabama’s 67 counties and winning all but two predominantly black counties—Montgomery and Sumter. And Davis barely won those counties. The challenge for the pundits and political experts is to explain why Alabama Democrats, including the majority of black voters, voted overwhelmingly for a folksy white politician with a two-year college degree rather than an articulate, sitting U.S. Congressman with a Harvard law school degree.

  The consensus seems to be that Davis was too centrist. In other words, Sparks beat Davis by running as a true Democrat liberal.

  Most people know Sparks ran on legalizing gambling, but the issue that really separated him from Davis was his support for the Obama health care legislation. With his support of legalizing gambling, Sparks became the entitlement candidate advocating more spending on more big government programs paid for with gambling revenue. But with his support of Obamacare, he also became the liberal nationalized health care candidate.

  Most political analysts believe Davis voted against the health care bill because he perceived that support for the bill would have been a significant obstacle to winning the governor’s race in the general election. By endorsing nationalized health care, Sparks attracted voters who support Obama’s health care legislation. Consequently, I believe his support for Obama’s nationalized health care plan, rather than gambling, was the key to the overwhelming black support he received.

  Moreover, the vote tallies would also seem to suggest that gambling was not the primary issue. For instance, in the counties with the most on the line in terms of gambling enterprises, Democrat voter turnout was down. In Houston County, the site of Country Crossing, the Democrat turnout was down by 59 percent; in Macon County, the site of Victoryland, it was down 22.9 percent; and Greene County, home to Greenetrack, was down 3.8 percent. Democrat voter turnout was down substantially in all the surrounding counties as well.

  One could assume that if gambling were the issue and if Alabama voters were so supportive of it, the voters in those counties with existing gambling facilities would have turned out in record numbers to vote for the candidate who has promised to save their gambling jobs.

  But they didn’t.

  In fact, the Democrats are faced with a decline in overall primary turnout statewide of over 31.5 percent from the 2006 primary. Democrat voter turnout was down in all but six counties. As a result, for perhaps the first time in state history, more Alabamians voted in the Republican primary than in the Democrat primary.

  In contrast, while the Democrat turnout was down 31.5 percent, the Republican turnout was up 7.1 percent over the 2006 primary. Prior to this primary, 2006 was the closest Republicans had ever come to having as many voters in their primary as the Democrats when they drew to within 6,500 voters of parity. In this primary, over 173,000 more people voted in the Republican primary than in the Democrat primary.

  National polls show that almost 60 percent of all Americans are opposed to Obama’s nationalized health care plan. In Alabama, opposition would be at least as high which could very well explain why so many voters dropped out of the Democrat primary. So while caution should be exercised, the fact that the Democrats suffered a massive loss of primary voters while the Republicans gained may indicate the beginnings of a political realignment driven in large part by issues such as excessive government spending and especially nationalized health care.

  These are the issues that will be at the forefront of the general election this fall because they are the issues Sparks campaigned on to beat Artur Davis. We will find out if this is the case in November.

  About the author: Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.

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