Alabama voters make their picks for governor in primaries

Updated: Jun. 5, 2018 at 7:47 PM CDT
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Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Democrats running for governor on Alabama's primary ballot Tuesday are hoping to build on the victory of U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, while Gov. Kay Ivey wants voters to affirm she belongs in the office she took over amid Republican scandals.

Ivey enjoys such clear advantages in name recognition and fundraising that the big question is whether she can avoid a July runoff by winning an outright majority among Republicans. She had already been elected statewide as treasurer and lieutenant governor when Gov. Robert Bentley resigned in the messy fallout of his alleged affair with a staffer.

"I'm proud of all we've gotten accomplished in these 14 months," Ivey said during a campaign stop in Montgomery. "When I became governor, I told the people we would clean up government, restore the people's trust and we would bring back our conservative values, and we have."

Ivey's lead has been large enough that she declined to debate her primary rivals, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, evangelist Scott Dawson and state Sen. Bill Hightower of Mobile, who made a sweep of last-minute campaign stops and media interviews.

"We can do things better in this state," Battle said. As Huntsville's mayor for a decade, he says he's the only candidate with a proven track record in economic development and education.

Dawson said in Piedmont that "the time is now for us to get rid of career politicians. We need one of us in Montgomery."

"The big question is, can the aggregate of challengers hold Kay under 50 (percent)," said David Mowery, a political consultant in Montgomery.

Voter Pierre Walls said Battle, 62, is his choice, citing the age of Ivey, 73. He'd like to see younger candidates elected.

"It's time for these old people to get out. Just too old," Walls said outside the Hoover Recreation Center Tuesday morning. "I used to live in Huntsville. Tommy Battle did a good job there. So I figure let's give him a chance."

But for voter Jessica Ray of Pelham, Alabama, Ivey's conduct after taking over last year earned her vote as did her ability to bring jobs to the state.

"She's shown a lot of proven leadership in the role. She took over basically when the state was a mess and Alabama was a laughingstock," she said.

In the Democratic primary, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, and former state legislator James Fields top a large field.

It has been 20 years since Alabama elected a Democrat to the governor's office. Energized by Jones' victory in December, the party is seeking a revival and has more candidates running this year.

These rivals have mostly run on similar platforms of establishing a state lottery to fund education programs and expanding Medicaid. Each argued that they're the best hope of taking back the governorship come November.

"It's about the future of this state," Maddox said Monday. "Do we want to provide the next generation with a better Alabama than the one we inherited or do we want leadership that remains silent to the problems of our times."

Maddox picked up a number of valuable endorsements in his first bid for statewide office, while Cobb has name recognition from her statewide victories in judicial races and her three decades of experience on the bench.

"It's time for Alabama to have a governor who cares more about the next generation than the next election," Cobb says in a video message to her supporters.

Billie Marsala of Hoover plans to vote for Cobb, because of her experience, and because it gives her the chance to vote for a woman.

"When I did the research, she just sounded educated and I liked her viewpoints," Marsala said. "I have to say, I don't mean to be sexist here but I kind of like that she's a woman."

Kevin Hyde from Hoover, Alabama, voted for Maddox, saying he was tired of the Republican leadership in the state and Maddox seemed like the candidate most likely to be able to beat a Republican in the general election.

"He's the one most grounded in reality. He's been focused on issues rather than mud-slinging and name-calling," Hyde said.

Turnout is predicted to be average. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said he is predicting 25 and 30 percent of the state's 3 million registered voters will vote on Tuesday.

Alabama does not require party registration, so registered voters can choose which primary they want to cast a ballot. However, under the state's cross-over voting ban, a person cannot vote in one primary and then switch to the other party's runoff in July.

Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana in Hoover, Alabama, contributed to this report.

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