Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon pulled off a feat previously unseen in the speaker’s office: He protected every one of his incumbent members in the Republican primary. Voters throughout Alabama re-nominated all fifteen Republican House members who had primary opposition.
McCutcheon’s success is certainly a product of his coordinated effort with House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter and their political team. It also may be signaling a shift in the political winds in Alabama and elsewhere. As we chronicled in our post-primary analysis, in the immediate aftermath, it is difficult to identify a common theme to this primary.
One theme that does not exist, though, is anti-incumbency.
As with a lot of things in life, politics sees its share of ebbs and flows. It was not more than a dozen or so years ago that incumbents strategically placed “Re-Elect” or “Keep” in front of their names on their political signs and literature. This was an advantage they enjoyed. These words let everyone know they currently held the office they sought. It conveyed experience, and that was a good thing.
Then the unrest of the 2010 and 2014 election cycles happened. No longer did anyone want to advertise that they held office. Gone were the words “Re-Elect” or “Keep” from campaign logos. Candidates ditched the stately look of suit and tie. In came shirt sleeves and public appearances only in their community or anywhere that did not remotely resemble a government building. Incumbent officeholders were especially sensitive to not create the appearance of a traditional politician.
Campaigns tend to be lagging indicators. The best and most successful campaigns are those which most quickly discern how voters feel and then adapt. This change in approach was all in response to the dissatisfaction that already existed on the ground or had already shown itself in election results. In many cases, strategies changed too late, or not at all, and incumbents lost. For many challengers during those cycles, the simple fact that they were not the incumbent became the foundation of their campaigns. And incumbents acted as if they had never run for office before.
The Republican primary results on Tuesday showed us something different, once again. McCutcheon’s incumbent effort went 15-0. Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed’s own incumbent protection program only lost a single race.
Governor Kay Ivey faced three opponents and a massive amount of money and still roared to victory without a runoff. Ivey has run for political office every four years since 2002, yet Republican primary voters were unfazed.
John McMillan, the presumptive State Treasurer, has been around Alabama politics for decades. He began by serving in the State House and most recently served two terms as Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries. McMillan coasted to victory with 61 percent of the vote in a field of three.
Voters know what they want from their elected officials. It may take some more time to understand, but it is possible the electorate’s anxiety toward officeholders has faded.
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