The 2016 election cycle is in full swing, but outside of a potentially competitive congressional race in Alabama’s 2nd District, there’s not a lot of action in the Yellowhammer State this year. However, if you think it’s too early to start looking toward the impending electoral chaos of 2018… Well, you’re probably right. But make no mistake, Alabama’s most ambitious politicians are already jockeying for position.
Yellowhammer released a list of the “Top 20 potential 2018 Alabama gubernatorial candidates” earlier this year. It included a pretty good number of long shots and individuals who probably won’t actually end up running, and that list did not include any of the other statewide offices that the political climbers are keeping an eye on.
So let’s take a quick look at some of the politicians who are already eyeballing the state’s highest offices that will be up for grabs in 2018.
Slade Blackwell: The Mountain Brook senator strengthened his conservative bonafides this year by being a member of the “Gang of Nine,” the group of rock-ribbed senators who opposed every proposed tax increase. His extraordinarily successful business career places him a position to pump a substantial amount of his own money into the race, if he chose to do so. But he may not need to; he’s also a prolific fundraiser. The business community loves him, and his record as a fiscal conservative in the senate would help him make a strong case to grassroots conservatives as well. The only question is whether he’d pull the trigger on a statewide campaign with three young kids still working their way through school.
Young Boozer: The two-term state treasurer has a sharp business acumen and impresses with his creative thinking on complex fiscal issues. His career in banking, finance and investments has taken him from Citibank in New York and Crocker National Bank in Los Angeles, to Coral Petroleum in Houston and Colonial Bank in Montgomery. With Alabama’s budgets in perpetual disarray, Boozer could make a strong case that he’s got the background to lead the state toward a longterm solution. But will his style connect with Alabama’s more rural, populist conservatives?
Del Marsh: The Senate President Pro Tem has been a steady hand at the helm of the Alabama Senate since Republicans took control in 2010, but indications are that this will be his last term in the Senate, whether he runs statewide or not. From a leadership and management standpoint, Marsh is head and shoulders above most of his colleagues. For that reason, he is one of the few individuals who will have major players in the state’s business community asking him to run. It usually works the other way around.
John McMillan: The Agriculture Commissioner started his career in public service in 1969 on the Baldwin County Commission. Almost 50 years later, he may look around as the gubernatorial field begins to emerge in 2017 and say to himself, “Why the heck not?” Agriculture is Alabama’s largest industry, but the current likely field does not include a candidate the state’s farmers would look at and immediately say, “He’s one of us.” McMillan is a sixth generation farmer, a past Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, past executive VP of the Alabama Forestry Association, and a two-term Ag Commish. He’s built up a statewide grassroots network over the years, which could come in handy if he decides he’d like to take a crack at the state’s top job.
John Merrill: The first-term Secretary of State is a relentless campaigner who has probably been mapping his course to the governor’s mansion since he beat “The Machine” to become University of Alabama SGA President in 1986. He is a political animal whose relentless campaigning led to him burning through several sets of tires on his personal vehicle during the last election cycle. He is a resident of Tuscaloosa, a town that has essentially become the hub of political power in Alabama, with the sitting governor, a U.S. senator and the State House Budget Chairman all hailing from Title Town. Merrill’s gunning to be next.
Greg Reed: The Alabama Senate Majority Leader has quickly risen through the ranks of the Republican caucus after first being elected just five short years ago. No one doubts that he is eyeing another move up. However, as tempting as it might be to jump into the gubernatorial fray, he is so well positioned to succeed Marsh as Pro Tem, it may not make sense for him to risk it. His calculus probably goes something like this: Do I pursue the 15 percent chance of emerging from a crowded field to become governor, or do I stay on my current track and have a 95 percent chance of rising to become one of the state’s two most powerful legislators?
Martha Roby: The 2nd Congressional District representative has managed to move up the ladder in Washington fairly quickly, landing a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee. She has proven herself to be an able defender of the District’s large military and farming communities, but has taken some shots from grassroots conservatives for not bucking congressional leadership on tough votes. The Montgomery resident with young children undoubtedly sees the appeal of not having to travel to D.C. during the week, but if she wins re-election to a fourth term in Congress, would she give up a relatively safe seat and jump into the mass chaos of a gubernatorial run?
Luther Strange: The Attorney General is almost certainly running for governor. He has already met with at least one potential campaign consultant and has signaled to some close allies that he plans to run. It is probably not the job he really wants — he’s had his eye on the U.S. Senate for a long time. But with Senators Shelby and Sessions both still going strong, the prospect of suddenly being out of public office is a non-starter for Strange. He would likely start as a favorite to make the runoff in a crowded field, by virtue of the fact that he has already run statewide three times (lost a bid for Lt. Governor, won two for AG), so the voters know “Big” Luther’s name.
Wealthy guy no one is thinking about: Never forget this guy. He’s out there. He can self-fund. And he can throw a kink in even the best-laid plans.
Rusty Glover: The low-key and well-liked state senator from south Alabama has already gotten word out around Montgomery that he plans to run statewide in 2018. Democrats stripped much of the power from the Lt. Governor’s office in the late ’90s, but the fact remains that the Senate’s presiding officer is a mere heartbeat away from the top job. Glover is a retired school teacher who’s successfully ran for both the House and Senate. We’ll see if he adds Lt. Governor to that list.
Mary Scott Hunter: The state school board representative from north Alabama has made inroads with some key players in the business community as the board’s foremost advocate of Common Core State Standards. But that could hurt with grassroots conservatives who’ve labeled the standards a big business and big government takeover of public education. Hunter’s résumé is bolstered by a military record that includes stints in the Air Force, Reserves and the Alabama Air National Guard. Her dad is Scott Hunter, former University of Alabama and NFL championship quarterback, which never hurts in football-crazed Alabama.
Steve Marshall: The Marshall County District Attorney has expressed interest in a statewide run, but would face an uphill battle against other potential candidates who already have a built-in fundraising and political operation. Marshall became a Republican in 2011 after being elected in 2004 and 2010 as a Democrat. He is a past president of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association, so he has presumably built relationships around the state that would be beneficial if he jumps in the race for AG.
Arthur Orr: The Senate Budget Chairman has had the unenviable task of crafting the state’s beleaguered General Fund for the past five years. However, the scuttlebutt around Montgomery is that he and Senate Education Budget Chairman Trip Pittman will switch positions ahead of the next legislative session, placing Orr atop the state’s largest pot of money. Speaking of money, Orr is a fundraising dynamo. And being a budget chairman all but ensures he would receive big checks out of Montgomery, in addition to significant support out of his north Alabama Senate District, if he decides to run statewide. He is currently Vice President and General Counsel for Cook’s Pest Control and his legal background also includes a stint at a prominent Decatur law firm.
Cam Ward: The Shelby County State Senator was the odds-on favorite to be the next attorney general before a DUI arrest and a stint in rehab earlier this year. It is hard to imagine voters electing someone who had that big of a lapse in judgement to be their state’s top law enforcement officer and lawyer, but crazier things have happened. Ward maintains the support of many in Montgomery and in his district. He doesn’t appear to have even considered taken a step back from politics, but is weighing whether he should resurface for a statewide run or batten down the hatches and try to return to the Senate.
SENATE PRESIDENT PRO TEM
This is not a statewide elected office, but it is worth considering for a couple of reasons. Number one, it is among the state’s most powerful positions, alongside governor and speaker of the house. Secondly, it is such an attractive position that it could influence who ends up running for the posts mentioned above.
If current Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh suddenly switches directions and decides to serve another four year term, that could compel Sen. Greg Reed to take a more serious look at governor. If Marsh leaves, Reed is almost certainly going to be his successor, which likely bumps him out of the governor’s race. But if Marsh leaves the senate and Reed runs for governor, the race for pro tem is wide open.
It could lead Sen. Ward to abandon his attorney general ambitions and try to rally support among his colleagues to give him the job. That, in turn, would give Sen. Orr — who may have at one point wanted to be pro tem himself — an even clearer path to AG. It could also open up an opportunity for a young leader like Sen. Clay Scofield to rise quickly. The scenarios are almost endless, but they all hinge on senators Marsh and Reed.
These are the politicians eyeing a run for Alabama’s highest offices in 2018 https://t.co/8e2VTz3ULl
— Cliff Sims (@Cliff_Sims) October 29, 2015