BUTLER – It wasn’t officially a campaign rally, but it might have had the same impact as one.
On Thursday night, Gov. Kay Ivey spoke at the Choctaw County Chamber of Commerce annual banquet before a crowd of a few hundred gathered at Butler’s First United Methodist Church gymnasium.
“I feel right at home here in Choctaw County,” she said to the crowd. “You know I grew up in Wilcox County in Camden, Ala. And I’m proud to be in y’all’s neck of the woods tonight. Rural Alabama is not only my home, but it is also where I learned the values I take to work with me every day – hard work and community spirit. If you ask me, today our world could learn a lot from small-town rural Alabama.”
Ivey touted ALDOT’s efforts in Choctaw County and vowed there would be a significant increase in Alabama State Troopers on the roadways.
“Regardless of what you may be hearing, before February we will have more than 400 highway patrol State Troopers,” she said. “This represents a 25 percent increase in the number of skilled law enforcement officers dedicated to keeping you safe on Alabama roads.”
“All of my efforts to improve infrastructure and to increase the coverage of public safety will be focused on doing what’s right and what’s best for the people of Alabama,” Ivey added before receiving a round of applause.
Ivey also hit one of the familiar themes of her 2018 reelection campaign bid, which is her economic track record.
“We’ve created 16,000 new jobs while I’ve been in office through more than $8 billion in direct private investments,” she said. “There are more jobs in Alabama than ever before in our state’s entire history. In fact, right here in Choctaw County, your workforce has grown 6.2 percent since last year.”
The incumbent governor predicted there would be more of these positive economic signs going forward.
“We are on a path to prosperity in our future,” Ivey declared. “We are headed in the right direction.”
Near the end of her address to the Choctaw County Chamber, she reiterated her advocacy for rural Alabama.
“Relationships matter and Choctaw County can teach us all something about that,” she said. “Like I said, I sure am proud to be in your neck of the woods. Each of you works hard to ensure the growth here in Choctaw County, and when this area experiences success, our whole state experiences success. And as long as I’m governor, you will have a true champion for rural Alabama in Montgomery.”
When it comes to Alabama electoral politics, Choctaw County is often overlooked.
Choctaw County, population 13,170, and its county seat Butler, population 1,773, are not considered significant prizes for any statewide contest. And given it isn’t in an Alabama media market, but instead a Mississippi market, the overwhelming majority of the political advertising that comes over the airwaves to TV viewers and radio listeners in Choctaw County involves Mississippi contests.
Rather than spend valuable advertising dollars on spots that run in the Meridian, Miss. market that would likely only be seen by voters in Choctaw County and Sumter County to its north, statewide campaigns will forgo trying to reach Alabama voters through on-air political advertising in those two counties.
However, Choctaw County could also be seen as a political bellwether. It is one of the few counties in the state that is a legitimate “swing” county.
In the 2017 U.S. Senate special election, Democrat Doug Jones outperformed Republican Roy Moore by a 53-to-46 percent margin. In the 2016 presidential election, Republican Donald Trump outperformed Democrat Hillary Clinton by a 56-to-43 percent margin.
If Ivey does well in the final Choctaw County tally on November 6, it could be a positive sign for her overall political health headed into a potential next term.
Ivey faces Democratic challenger Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox on Election Day and according to most polls is the odds-on favorite in that match-up.