2018 Elections

It’s Not Always About the Money (Except When It Is)

A crowd of supporters gathered to congratulate Walt Maddox on his win in the Democratic race for governor. (Source: Hank Black)

Spending the most money does not always get you the most votes, but the biggest spenders were the big winners in Tuesday’s gubernatorial primary elections.

Kay Ivey, the sitting governor and former lieutenant governor who has reported spending more than $4 million in her bid to win a full term in the top job, easily won the Republican nomination in Tuesday’s primary. Ivey handily defeated three challengers, each of whom spent less than she did.

Walt Maddox, Tuscaloosa’s mayor since 2005, bested five other contenders in Tuesday’s primary to win the Democratic nomination without a runoff. He has reported spending more than $827,000, the highest amount in the Democratic gubernatorial primary field.

The two gubernatorial nominees will meet in Alabama’s general election on Nov. 6.

In all, about $10 million has been spent on the governor’s race so far.

Not counting money some candidates have spent from lines of credit, Republican gubernatorial contenders spent about $8.4 million during the primary campaign, according to figures from the Secretary of State’s Office. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates – primarily Maddox and Cobb –  reported spending less than $1.5 million.

Ivey, 73, has been the state’s chief executive since April 10, 2017, when the scandal-forced resignation of Robert Bentley catapulted her from the lieutenant governor’s chair to the governor’s office. Running a cautious, largely ceremonial campaign, Ivey defeated Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, state Sen. Bill Hightower, R-Mobile, and Birmingham evangelist Scott Dawson. Another candidate’s name also was on the ballot, but Michael McAllister of Troy died in April, and any votes for him will not be certified.

Maddox, 45, is making his first bid for statewide office and hopes to be the first Democrat to win the governor’s chair since Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman defeated incumbent Republican Fob James in 1998. While the Democratic gubernatorial field listed six candidates, the race for the nomination was chiefly between Maddox and former state Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb. The other candidates were former state Rep. James Fields of Cullman County, Dothan native and LGBTQ activist Christopher Countryman, Doug “New Blue” Smith of Montgomery and Anthony White of Dothan.

Ivey Drew Support From Voters Statewide

Ivey’s Republican nomination victory was truly statewide. With 66 of the 67 counties reporting, she led in all but five of them. Battle, her closest challenger, overwhelmingly won his home county of Madison, had double-digit leads in neighboring Limestone, Morgan and Marshall, and narrowly led Ivey in the northwest corner county of Lauderdale.

Gov. Kay Ivey

But Ivey held her own in other north Alabama counties and won, often decisively, everywhere else. Except for Madison, she had comfortable leads in three of the state’s most vote-rich counties –  Jefferson, Montgomery and Mobile. In Mobile County, Ivey more than doubled Hightower’s percentage of the vote.

She even won in the heavily Democratic Black Belt, where counties usually had only a few hundred votes or less cast on the GOP side. Her home county of Wilcox had the fewest GOP primary votes – 118 – and Ivey got 107 of them.

Maddox Mined the Biggest Counties

Maddox followed a somewhat similar victory path, though he lost 15 counties and was dead even with Cobb in another.

A key to his success was his leads in nine of the state’s 10 most populous counties. In Jefferson, Maddox won nearly 70 percent of the more than 66,000 Democratic gubernatorial primary votes cast, and he took more than 90 percent of the Democratic primary vote in his home county of Tuscaloosa.

 Average Turnout

The overall voter turnout, based on incomplete Democratic and GOP gubernatorial primary totals, was more than 897,000. That amounts to about 26 percent of the state’s 3.3 million registered voters, and it is on a par with turnouts in recent gubernatorial primary elections.

In the 2014 gubernatorial primary elections, the turnout was about 24 percent of the state’s registered voters. In 2010, the figure was 28 percent.

Around the state, except for some counties such as those in the lightly populated Black Belt and some large population centers such as Jefferson and Montgomery counties, the unofficial vote returns suggest a higher turnout in the Republican primary than on the Democratic side. That has happened before in an era that has seen Republicans winning control of state government and holding all but one statewide office.

But it’s a far cry from 1986, when the Democratic gubernatorial primary drew more than 940,000 voters. At that time, the Democrats dominated the state, and the party’s gubernatorial primary featured such heavyweight candidates as then-Lt. Gov. Bill Baxley, then-Atty. Gen. Charlie Graddick and former Gov. (and not-yet Republican) Fob James.

On the Republican side that year, the gubernatorial primary drew two longshot candidates, Guy Hunt and Doug Carter. That contest, which Hunt won, drew fewer than 30,000 votes. But a nasty, protracted fight between Graddick and Baxley over the Democratic nomination enabled Hunt, a preacher and a former Cullman County probate judge, to become the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

In contrast, this year Democratic candidates for governor drew 234,621 votes, and Republicans more than doubled that number with 547,265.