Big wins, a few surprises and a lower-than-expected turnout marked Tuesday’s elections for statewide offices in Alabama.
State election officials had predicted a 30 percent turnout for the primaries, but only about 24 percent of the electorate across the state went to the ballot box, according to unofficial vote tallies with 66 of Alabama’s 67 counties reporting.
Incumbent Secretary of State John Merrill was among the big winners in state races Tuesday, securing the GOP nomination by a landslide. Merrill will face a political newcomer, Democratic nominee Heather Milam, in November.
Merrill beat his primary opponent, Michael Johnson, with 71.64 percent of the vote to his 28.36 percent. Milam defeated Army veteran Lula Albert, with 63.67 percent of the vote to her 36.33 percent.
However, many of the other races weren’t decided Tuesday night, and the top candidates will face each other July 17 in party runoffs.
Those include the lieutenant governor’s race, in which Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh will square off against state Rep. Will Ainsworth for the Republican nomination. The winner will face pastor Will Boyd, the Democratic nominee, who ran unopposed.
Cavanaugh garnered 43.27 percent of the votes to Ainsworth’s 37.12 percent. Rusty Glover finished third with 19.61 percent of the vote.
On her campaign Facebook page, Cavanaugh, 52, a former adviser to former Gov. Bob Riley, thanked her supporters and said she plans to visit every Alabama county in the run-up to the runoff. “Together, we will build a brighter Alabama,” she said.
For his part, Ainsworth, an Albertville lawmaker, also thanked his supporters. “Because of your dedication and hard work, we’re headed to a RUNOFF on July 17!” he wrote.
In one of the most intriguing races, current Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, 53, will face former Attorney General Troy King, 49, in a runoff for the GOP nomination.
The winner will face Democrat Joseph Siegelman, son of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. The younger Siegelman narrowly defeated Birmingham attorney Chris Christie for the Democratic nomination, taking 54.16 percent of the vote in that race.
Marshall, who got 28.36 percent of Tuesday’s Republican vote, took a not-so-veiled shot at his opponents. Marshall will compare his record to King’s in the runoff, pointing out that voters rejected King’s record when he ran against former Attorney General Luther Strange in 2010.
“We’ll also be able to share a very positive message with the people of the state,” Marshall said. “If we’ve seen something tonight, it’s that the two people who ran the most negative campaign, that didn’t tell the truth, that didn’t want to talk about a record but made up things about me, right now that’s being rejected.”
Meanwhile, King, who got 27.84 percent of the vote, pointed to some high-profile murder cases in the state, notably Judith Ann Neelley, convicted in the murder of 13-year-old Lisa Millican. He called Neelley “a monster.” She was sentenced to death for the 1982 murder, but her sentence was commuted by former Gov. Fob James and she’s now serving a life sentence.
“We’ve decided, we’re going to pass ‘Lisa’s Law’ and we’re going to care more about families of victims than criminals,” King said. “It is my commitment tonight to you that win, lose or draw, we are going to protect future generations of victims in the name of Lisa Ann Millican.”
King added, “The prosecutions that go forward in this state against child molesters and child predators and politicians, are all going to be special prosecutions that are brought.”
Incumbent Public Service Commissioner and former state legislator Jeremy Oden of Vinemont narrowly kept his place on the Public Service Commission, topping challenger Jim Bonner of Phil Campbell by less than 3,000 votes.
The Republican Party had said it would not count votes cast for Bonner regardless of the outcome because of offensive public comments he’s made. When it looked as if he had earned the most votes Tuesday night, Bonner said he would appeal the party’s decision.
Oden will face Democrat Cara McClure in November.
In the Place 2 seat, incumbent Commissioner Chip Beeker of Eutaw won the GOP nomination without a runoff by a more than 2-to-1 margin over Robin Litaker of Homewood.
In the race for chief justice of Alabama, Associate Justice Tom Parker narrowly defeated incumbent Chief Justice Lyn Stuart.
Parker put the Southern Poverty Law Center at the center of his campaign in ads that filled the airwaves in the run-up to the vote. Parker will face Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance, the Democratic nominee, in November.
Parker won 51.56 percent of the vote to win the nomination over Stuart’s 48.44 percent.
Incumbent Brad Mendheim and Sarah Stewart will be in the runoff for Place 1 on the state’s high court. Mendheim won 43.38 percent of the vote to 29.36 percent for Stewart. There is no Democratic nominee for the post.
Also, Jay Mitchell won Place 4 on the Supreme Court by a more than 2-to-1 margin over John Bahakel. Mitchell won more than 70 percent of the vote to 29 percent for Bahakel. He will face Democrat Donna Wesson Smalley in November.
St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor of Pell City was elected to the Court of Criminal Appeals Place 1, besting Riggs Walker 66 percent to 34 percent. Bill Cole was elected to the Court of Criminal Appeals Place 3, leading Donna Beaulieu 59 percent to 41 percent. Neither faces Democratic opposition in November.
There will be a runoff for Place 2 on the Court of Criminal Appeals. District Attorney Chris McCool of Gordo will face Montgomery attorney Rich Anderson in six weeks. McCool got 42 percent of the vote Tuesday to Anderson’s 35 percent. No Democrat is challenging for that seat in November.
In races for the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, Alabama Tax Court Judge Christy Olinger Edwards (40.68 percent) will face District Court Judge Michelle Manley Thomason of Fairhope (31.99 percent) next month in a runoff for the Place 1 seat.
For Place 2, Birmingham attorney Chad Hanson defeated incumbent Terri Willingham Thomas 53 percent to 47 percent.
Ag and Industries, Other Races
In other races, Lowndesboro agri-businessman Rick Pate will face state Sen. Gerald Dial of Lineville in a runoff for commissioner of agriculture and industries. Pate topped Republican candidates with 40 percent of the vote, , compared to Dial’s 30 percent.
Other outright winners Tuesday night on the Republican side included incumbent State Auditor Jim Zeigler. Zeigler, who led his nearest GOP challenger, Stan Cooke, by more than 100,000 votes, will face Democratic nominee Miranda Joseph.
In the state treasurer’s race, John McMillan won over two challengers to capture the GOP nomination. McMillan took 61 percent of the vote to 21 percent for nearest challenger, David Black.
In state Board of Education Races, Tracie West (32 percent) will face Melanie Hill (33 percent) in a runoff for District 2. Wayne Reynolds defeated Rich McAdams for the District 8 seat 52 percent to 48 percent.
The general election will be Nov. 6.
This story has been updated to reflect that Jeremy Oden won re-election to the Public Service Commission.