Supreme Court race could pit Nabers against Cobb

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP)_The race for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court could pit Republican incumbent Drayton Nabers against Sue Bell Cobb, the only Democrat on the state's appellate courts. Another Supreme Court race could feature former Supreme Court Justice John England and Civil Appeals Court Judge Glenn Murdock.

Today (Monday) marks the first day when politicians can begin raising money for Alabama's 2006 elections, and that means potential candidates are beginning to get serious about their plans.

Nabers is a former state finance director and insurance company executive, appointed chief justice by Gov. Bob Riley last June. Nabers says he's enjoying his job and is seriously considering entering next year's Republican primary. But he won't make a decision until later in the summer.

Cobb, a Democrat elected to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in 1994 and re-elected in 2000, says she's "definitely considering" running for chief justice rather than seeking re-election. She expects to announce a decision around September.

After Republicans won every state appellate court race in 2004, Cobb became the only Democrat serving on any of Alabama's three appellate courts.

Cobb notes that 2004 was a presidential election year, when there is traditionally a lot of straight-ticket Republican voting in Alabama.

But 2006, will be an election with governor at the top of the ballot and many county offices at the bottom of the ballot. In those years, Cobb says, Democrats tend to do better.

England knows about the impact of presidential election years. He lost his seat on the Supreme Court in 2000, which was a presidential election year. Since then, he has been a circuit judge in Tuscaloosa County.

England says he's considering running again, and one factor in favor of another race is that 2006 is not a presidential election year. During non-presidential years, he says, there is not quite as much voting by party as in presidential years.

England is looking at the seat being vacated by Supreme Court Justice Bernard Harwood, also of Tuscaloosa.

Murdock, a Republican elected to the Court of Civil Appeals in 2000 with strong business support, is also considering a run for Harwood's seat.

Murdock ran for the Supreme Court in 1998, losing to Democrat Douglas Johnstone, who retired in January. That campaign stood out among recent Supreme Court races in Alabama because neither candidate ran an ad attacking the other.

Murdock says he hopes the 2006 races will feature more of that type of campaigning.

Three other seats on the Supreme Court -- all held by Republicans -- will be up for election next year.

Justice Tom Woodall plans to run for another term, Justice Lyn Stewart is leaning that way, and Justice Champ Lyons has not announced his plans. Democratic Party officials are vowing to recruit strong candidates for all three seats.

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