The Senate District 27 GOP primary contest between State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) and Auburn City Councilman Jay Hovey officially came to an end on Friday.
The Alabama Republican Party (ALGOP) has declared Hovey as the party’s nominee for the November 8 general election, where he will face Democratic Party nominee Sherri Reese.
The five-week-long contest saw the candidates engage in a public relations battle over which campaign could claim the prevailing narrative as a single vote separated the two.
The ending vote tally stands at 8,373 in Hovey’s column and 8,372 for Whatley.
Whatley’s last-ditch effort to hold onto the Auburn-area Senate seat centered around a rejected ballot cast by Tallapoosa County resident, Patsy Kenney, who alleged that she had been wrongly excluded from the voter roll due to a registration error by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA).
In a hearing of its candidate committee to consider the Whatley campaign’s arguments on behalf of Kenney, ALGOP voted to grant the incumbent state senator the race’s tying vote. It was decided by the party that a coin toss would determine the race’s victor.
After a review was conducted into the matter, ALEA released a statement debunking the Whatley campaign’s assertions that Kenney was wrongfully denied the opportunity to vote, due to her not completing the issuance transaction necessary to obtain an Alabama driver’s license, thus making her an ineligible voter.
Additionally, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill publicly declared that Hovey had garnered “the most legal votes cast.”
Still, Kenney’s legal representation threatened to file a federal lawsuit if her provisional ballot was not accepted.
Friday, ALGOP reconvened its candidate committee to reconsider its decision to grant Whatley Kenney’s tying vote. The party ruled in favor of Hovey, officially making him the party’s nominee.
In a statement announcing the race’s conclusion, ALGOP provided insight into its decision-making process surrounding the tying vote that was in question.
“Election security and making sure that every legal vote is properly counted is of paramount importance to the Alabama Republican Party,” advised ALGOP. “ALEA’s statement makes it clear that Mrs. Kenney was not registered to vote for the primary election. We believe in the rule of law, and that only legal votes should be counted.”
“We also believe that the ability to vote is a sacred right, and one that the Alabama Republican Party is committed to protecting and defending,” added the party. “The Candidate Committee did not want to discount Mrs. Kenney’s provisional ballot while there was any reasonable doubt that she could have actually been registered to vote. We believe that everyone deserves that respect.
ALGOP noted that its leadership felt it was appropriate to take a deliberative approach to adjudicating election contests brought before it during the primary election cycle.
“The election contest process is incredibly difficult for the Alabama Republican Party,” continued ALGOP. “We care about each of our candidates, and we want them all to be successful. The rulings in these cases took longer than some wanted, but we felt it critical that all sides had a chance to gather information and investigate what happened. The ALGOP Candidate Committee heard arguments from both sides of all cases, considered the information presented to it, and made its rulings based on what was set forth.”
“This election cycle has revealed several areas of serious concern in the election process,” the party asserted. “These issues led to problems that hurt the Alabama Republican Party, our candidates, and our voters. We plan to work with lawmakers, the Secretary of State, Probate Judges, Boards of Registrars, and ALEA to find solutions to these problems, and to make sure they don’t happen again. The ALGOP believes Alabama and our voters deserve better. We invite Councilman Hovey and Senator Whatley – as well as our other candidates – to join us in this effort.”
ALGOP concluded its statement by stating its intentions to work alongside Hovey to ensure Republicans hold control of the Senate seat.
“We would like to thank Senator Whatley for his many years in the legislature on behalf of his district. His commitment to public service and our Party’s values are to be commended. The Party looks forward to working with Councilman Hovey as he now turns his focus to the general election. The ALGOP is united and energized more than ever to take back our country this November,” finished the party.
Hours before ALGOP reconvened for a final decision on the matter, Whatley released a statement announcing his intention to “step away” from the race.
“The last twelve years have been fantastic. I have loved serving in the Alabama Senate. I have made lifelong friendships with many fantastic people,” reflected Whatley. “Hands down, the best thing about my Senate service has been speaking to an Auburn University class where I met my wife Lauren. We are thrilled to have recently welcomed our daughter, Laurel, into the world.”
Even as Hovey legally earned the GOP nod, Whatley maintained that he was “the Republican nominee,” which is an apparent reference to speculation that his challenger benefited from Democrats that crossed over to vote in the Republican primary.
“I am a Republican. I want to thank all my supporters and friends who have reached out to me during this process. I’ve been a delegate to the last three Republican conventions. I am the Republican nominee who was voted by Republicans in my district,” the senator contended.
Whatley concluded, “With that said, I now believe that it is in the best interest of my friends, colleagues, family, and the Republican Party, for me to step away from this tied race so that we can move forward and have success in November. I am looking forward to spending some quality time with my wife and daughter, focusing on my law practice and other business interests. It has been the honor of a lifetime serving the people of Lee, Tallapoosa and Russell counties.”
Whatley, a three-term senator and chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, outspent Hovey in the primary contest $1,251,359 to $94,674, which is more than a 13:1 margin.
UPDATE 11:50 a.m.:
In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Hovey touched on the combative nature of the race and thanked his supporters for granting him with an opportunity to serve in the Alabama Senate.
“I am honored to be elected as the Republican nominee to the Alabama State Senate from Senate District 27,” said Hovey. “I’m thankful for the prayers and words of encouragement from my supporters throughout District 27. This has been a potentially divisive experience. But we have maintained that we would be successful by standing with integrity and running a clean campaign about me and my desire to serve.”
“I look forward to continuing to campaign to win the November General Election. Beyond November, I pledge to represent the people of Senate District 27 honorably and with integrity in the Alabama Senate,” concluded Hovey.
Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL