Alabama's Republican Runoff Gets Nasty
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AllPolitics, June 30) -- Incumbent Gov. Fob James goes into Tuesday's Republican primary runoff in a close, name-calling fight with challenger Winton Blount. Neither seems to have an advantage.
A Southern Opinion Research poll conducted last week among "likely voters" in the runoff gave James 48 percent and Blount 47 percent in a survey with a possible sampling error of 5 percentage points.
The most recent trading of insults came over the weekend during multi-city campaign swings by both candidates. James accused Blount of using "money and influence" to get the backing of Birmingham's black mayor, Richard Arrington. Blount responded that James was playing "low-down, dirty racist politics."
While both men are as deeply conservative as Alabama's voters are believed to be, Blount has attempted to portray James as an old-style caricature of a white Southern politician. Blount's underlying message is that such a political style is bad for business, bad for investment and bad for Alabama.
But James seems to relish the insult. As Congressional Quarterly's Geoff Earle reported James imitated a monkey's walk to argue against textbooks that include the theory of evolution. When Blount was critical, James replied: "If I dance like a monkey, then he must dance like a fat monkey."
For good measure, James' wife, Bobbie, called Blount a "big, fat sissy."
Blount accuses James of corruption, saying he steers state business to his family's landfill. An anonymous flyer -- which James called a "smear sheet" -- characterized Blount as a murderer, arsonist and gay rights advocate.
In the final days before the runoff vote, a nursing home industry group circulated 50,000 leaflets to nursing home employees and families of patients saying that James is insensitive to Alabama's sick and elderly people.
Polls indicate Alabama voters are not greatly moved by this high-level debate. In the same survey that showed James and Blount in a virtual tie, the Southern Opinion Research poll show either James or Blount losing the general election to Democratic Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman by 10 percentage points. This sampling of registered voters had a possible sampling error of 3 percentage points.
Siegelman faced no runoff Tuesday and has raised $3.4 million for his gubernatorial bid.
James was elected governor in 1994 with 50 percent of the vote. He served as governor from 1979-83 as a Democrat.
Blount is the son of a former U.S. postmaster general, is pro-business with a dash of the economic populism that plays well with Alabama voters.
Both men claim some support from the Christian fundamentalists who are a considerable force in Alabama politics, But former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed is an adviser to James' campaign.
Reed, now a political consultant based in Atlanta, stayed away from Christian issues in remarks about James during an interview on CNN's Larry King Live last week.
He said the race was "too close to call right now, Larry, but Governor James has been a great governor. Unemployment is at a 27-year low in Alabama, created 57,000 new jobs, did it with no new taxes, turned around the school system, cut welfare rolls 40 percent. I think Governor James is going to be renominated next Tuesday, and
I think we'll win come November."