The Alabama Education Association (AEA) appears to be doubling down on its efforts to unseat as many Republican incumbents as possible during the 2014 election cycle.
According to campaign finance disclosures first reported on by the Montgomery Advertiser, the AEA has taken out a $1.2 million loan from Regions bank, adding to a $500,000 loan they took out last summer.
The teachers union has become the de facto Alabama Democratic Party in recent years as the traditional party apparatus has all but collapsed. But realizing that the Republican primary is the only game in town in most legislative districts, the group spent $7 million in the months leading up to June’s primary, much of it in support of Republican candidates they and their allies had recruited to run.
The AEA’s strategy was simple: unleash a tsunami of negative advertising via television, direct mail, radio, the Internet and over the phone and drown Republican incumbents with wave after wave of attacks. Many of the ads were paid for directly by the Alabama Education Association (AEA), others were funded by a couple of groups widely believed to be fronts for the AEA created to hide their involvement from voters.
In short, $7 million worth of teachers’ dues was spent with the sole purpose of eroding the current Republican supermajority.
So what did $7 million buy them?
Zero statewide races. Zero state senate races. And only a handful of state house races.
AEA successfully took down incumbent Republican House members Richard Baughn (HD14), Mac Buttram (HD12), Wayne Johnson (HD22), Charles Newton (HD90), Bill Roberts (HD13) and Kurt Wallace (HD42).
But the Regions loan has suddenly refilled the AEA’s coffers, making it the most well-funded PAC in the state once again.
The Business Council of Alabama now has the second most money going into the home stretch, with over $930,000 cash on hand as of August 4, and the Alabama Farmers Federation’s PAC is third with just over $778,000 in the bank as of July 15.
With the loan, plus another approximately $500,000 in dues coming from AEA members ahead of election day, the group has the resources to be a major player, but they’re not going to be able to just throw money at every race. They’re going to have to be strategic.
So what is the AEA’s plan?
They could try to make a run at doing some real damage in the House (where they’ve already won a handful of seats this year), or they could choose to tackle 2-3 Senate races.
In the House, competitive open seats in Districts 24 and 27 could be prime targets, as could Republican incumbents like Alan Boothe, Terri Collins, Lynn Greer, Ken Johnson, Becky Nordgren and Jim Patterson.
In the Senate, they could continue propping up Sen. Harri Anne Smith, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, in her fight to hold off Republican challenger Melinda McClendon, a Houston County Commissioner. They could continue pounding Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, who they already spent a fortune trying and failing to beat in the Republican primary. They could also try to help a couple of old Democratic allies retake seats they lost in 2010. Former senators Phil Poole and Larry Means are trying to avenge their losses to Republicans Gerald Allen and Phil Williams.
But after having absolutely no success in the Senate in the Republican primary, there’s a good chance the AEA will continue trying to chip away at the GOP’s supermajority in the House.
They’ll face long odds in either scenario, but with a couple million dollars to spend, they are going to make some noise.
The wild card in all of this is the potential continued coordination between the AEA and former Obama campaign staffers who are fanning out across the state registering voters and getting people to the polls for a group called Empower Alabama, which was launched earlier this year by the former Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.
Whether they are ultimately successful in swaying any races will come down to voter turnout. If Republicans turn out in strong numbers, the AEA and Empower Alabama won’t be able to overcome it. But without a hotly-contested governor’s race at the top of the ballot and no competitive congressional races anywhere outside of central Alabama, they will once again be banking on Republicans sitting at home on election day thinking their vote won’t matter.
Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims