Gov. Kay Ivey turned back Democratic challenger Walt Maddox on Tuesday and led the Republican ticket to a clean sweep of statewide races in Alabama.
“The people of Alabama have spoken loud and clear: We want to keep Alabama on the right track and keep Alabama working,” Ivey declared before cheering supporters Tuesday night at a Montgomery hotel.
“It is with immense gratitude that I stand before you tonight as the next governor of Alabama. … Tonight, today, together we have made history — the first Republican woman to be elected governor.”
With ballots reported from all of the state’s 67 counties, the unofficial count showed Ivey with about 59.49 percent of the vote, compared to 40.36 percent for Maddox, the mayor of Tuscaloosa.
The totals for down-ballot races were similarly lopsided in favor of GOP candidates. The one statewide race where Democrats held out their best hope, the Alabama Supreme Court chief Justice contest between Associate Justice Tom Parker and Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bob Vance, was also a runaway for Parker, despite Democratic efforts to tie him to twice-deposed Chief Justice Roy Moore. The party also recorded victories for Will Ainsworth for lieutenant governor, plus several incumbents including Steve Marshall for attorney general, John Merrill for secretary of state and Jim Zeigler for auditor.
The Republican victory came amid heavy voter turnout, with almost 54 percent turnout in Jefferson County and 49.8 percent across the state — numbers that are even with or higher than those from the 2016 general election that propelled Donald Trump to an upset victory for the presidency over Hillary Clinton.
With the song “This One’s For the Girls” by Martina McBride blaring through the sound system as she entered, Ivey gave her acceptance speech before supporters and media at the Renaissance Hotel.
Ivey is also the first lieutenant governor in Alabama history to ascend to the governor’s office because of the then-governor leaving office, then to run for and win election to the job on his or her own. The victory will make Ivey, 74, one of the oldest serving governors in the state’s history.
“We not only finished, we finished strong. And we’re just getting started … Dreams are possible in Alabama,” Ivey told supporters. “Working together, Alabama has achieved new heights, but we cannot rest on our success.”
In a campaign that was light on issues and specifics, and even lighter on public appearances, Ivey ran her race like a football coach with a three-touchdown lead, running out the clock in the fourth quarter. She rarely mentioned Maddox by name, despite his repeated criticism of her refusal to face him in a debate. Nearly all her stops on the campaign trail were at events held before GOP faithful; the closest she came to a traditional event was a series of six tarmac rallies at airports across the state on Monday, the day before the election.
One of Ivey’s regular themes in her campaign stump speech was that she had three hours notice before she was sworn in to replace Bentley, who stepped down amidst scandal regarding an affair with a staffer. This time Ivey will have much more time to prepare for her full term, which begins with her inauguration on Jan. 14, 2019.
“I’ve always said I have one simple goal as a public servant. When I walk away, I want to leave things better than when I started,” Ivey said in her closing remarks.
Maddox’s campaign watch party, held Tuesday night at his hometown’s Tuscaloosa River Market, was a decidedly low-energy affair as supporters watched the vote totals on television. A three-piece band played downtempo covers of “Waiting on the World to Change” and “Respect” as onlookers milled through the far-from-crowded venue.
When televisions at Maddox’s party began broadcasting Ivey’s victory speech, event organizers tried in vain to find a local channel not airing it before settling on a static image of Maddox’s campaign logo. When Maddox took the stage — to Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” — he congratulated Ivey repeatedly on her victory and urged supporters not to lose hope.
“Althought we did not win the race, it’s important that we continue to keep the faith,” he said. “And even at this moment, it’s important that we continue to believe in Alabama. … The voters have spoken and she has earned the sacred responsibility of leading our state … As the mayor of Tuscaloosa, I look forward to doing my part to making sure Alabama and our city continue to thrive.
“Yes, today may have been difficult,” he said. “But there are better days ahead.”
Maddox, 45, has served as mayor of Tuscaloosa since 2005, following a two-year stint as a city councilor. He had sought to become Alabama’s first Democratic governor since Don Siegelman, who held the office from 1999 to 2003. Maddox was seen as a long shot to break the Republican hold on the seat, with many polls placing him far behind the incumbent Republican.
The campaign was largely one-sided from the start, with Maddox calling for Ivey to engage him in a debate, and Ivey rebuffing those calls. Maddox criticized a lack of transparency and what he described as Ivey’s lack of a vision for the state’s future. In the election’s closing weeks, he particularly focused on criticizing Alabama’s low nationwide ranking in areas such as education and healthcare — and arguing that Ivey was complacent with Alabama’s national stature.
Maddox proposed to solve those problems largely by creating an education lottery — which would fund pre-K programs, college scholarships and vocational training, among other things — and by accepting federal expansion of Medicare.