There’s very little drama at the top of the ticket this year in Alabama, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a storyline worth watching.
That storyline is math, simple math. And no, believe it or not, it has nothing to do with Common Core.
Here are a few reasons why math is the storyline worth following when it comes to Alabama’s 2014 General Elections.
1. The Makeup of the Legislature
There’s no doubt there will be Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the Alabama legislature once all the votes are totaled Tuesday night. However, you can bet your bottom dollar Republican leaders are keeping a close watch on the final tally, and not just because they want to run up the score for bragging rights.
Although the Republican primaries held earlier this year were an unmitigated disaster for The Alabama Education Association (AEA) — the state’s de facto Democratic Party — they did manage to get a handful of their choice candidates elected. In fact, some of them have already been meeting separately from the full GOP caucus.
If Democrats manage to peel off a couple more Republican candidates in the General Election, the AEA could be positioned to block some of the “heavier lifts” Republicans try to make by combining the AEA-aligned Republicans with their Democratic allies to erode the GOP’s filibuster-proof majority.
A few races to watch where Democrats are hoping to take out a Republican incumbent include House District 7 (Ken Johnson), HD 8 (Terri Collins), HD 89 (Alan Boothe), Senate District 10 (Phil Williams) and Senate District 13 (Gerald Dial).
The open seats the two parties are battling over are HD24 (Republican Nathaniel Ledbetter vs. Democrat David Beddingfield) and HD37 (Republican Bob Fincher vs. Democrat Josh Burns).
The AEA has also spent well over a million dollars against each of the GOP’s top legislative leaders, House Speaker Mike Hubbard (HD79) and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (SD12). They should be able to hold off their challengers, but they’ve had to fight, and it’s worth watching any time a group spends that much money in a state legislative race.
But while a lot of the attention is being paid to whether Republicans can hold on, there are a few Democrats who are fighting for their political lives, as well, most notably state representatives Daniel Boman (HD16) and Greg Burdine (HD1).
2. Can $1.5 million+ make a Democrat viable in Alabama?
The electoral math is heavily stacked against any Democrat runnings statewide in Alabama, but is $1.5 million spent on a scorched earth campaign enough to make a Democrat viable? Probably not, but the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has donated that stunning sum to Democrat Joe Hubbard, basically single-handedly funding his effort to unseat Republican Attorney General Luther Strange.
The Cook Partisan Voting Index rates Alabama as a “R+14” state, meaning a generic Republican running statewide starts with a 14-point lead against a generic Democrat. The deluge of negative ads might make this one closer than it should be, but it’s still hard to imagine Hubbard pulling off the upset.
3. Can $20 million buy you, well, anything?
Since we’re already having so much fun with math, how about a word problem?
Combine the $10+ million of teachers’ dues AEA has spent directly with the $4 million in loans they’ve taken out from Regions Bank and the untold millions they are widely believed to have funneled into so called “dark money” groups not required to disclose their donors, and what do you get?
That’s the question the AEA’s board will get an answer to on Tuesday night. Their total expenditures on this election cycle are so obscene that one would expect them to regain their stranglehold on the state. Yet, even in the AEA’s best case scenario, they only stand a chance at picking up a handful of legislative seats.
We’ll have more on this in our election postmortem, but a lot of folks in Montgomery are watching this one closely.
4. Bentley’s pursuit of 57.45%
The perceived rift between Gov. Bentley and the so called “Riley” faction of the Alabama Republican Party has been overblown a lot over the last few years, especially when it comes to the governor’s relationship with GOP legislative leadership. However, don’t think for a second that Bentley’s camp isn’t trying to eclipse former Gov. Bob Riley’s performance in his 2006 re-election bid.
Riley bested Democrat Lucy Baxley with 57.45% of the vote that year, which was a disastrous cyle for Republicans around the country. The electoral dynamics are reversed this year, which looks like it might be a banner year for the GOP.
Most projections suggest Bentley will outperform Riley in his bid for a second term. With the results of the gubernatorial race a forgone conclusion, this is the closest thing Alabama’s got to drama at the top of the ticket in 2014.
Everything you need to know about voting in Alabama
9 quotes that will inspire you to go vote today
Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims