Southern trilogy: how Republicans captured governorships in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama – Case Studies
“Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”
Sonny Perdue had a right to gloat on election night. Outspent 6 to 1, he had ousted a heavily favored incumbent to become Georgia’s first Republican governor in 130 years. Yet there was something about his victory celebration that made it seem even more surreal than his improbable triumph.
Perhaps it was the fact that his exultant declaration of deliverance is universally associated with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (though it originates from an old spiritual). After all, the shocking and subterranean nature of Perdue’s upset had immediately been credited to a backlash against incumbent Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, who played a role in removing the Confederate battle emblem from the Georgia state flag. King and the Confederacy don’t seem to mix, though they were once honored with the same holiday in some Southern states.
Then there was the fact that Perdue, the GOP gubernatorial nominee in November 2002, had been a Democratic leader in the state Senate only four years before. His party switch had seemed ludicrous at the time, as any Georgian with a trace of political awareness knew a Democrat-run Peach State was a tenet of natural law. The party had held complete control of state government since the invention of the telephone and still maintained solid majorities in both legislative houses.
But the tidal wave of change breaking over the red clay hills that November night was sweeping away more than just the governor. And that was despite the fact Democrats had dominated the recent redistricting process in the state to their partisan advantage.
“Politics in Georgia has changed for all times,” mused stunned state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker (D-Augusta) just before he too was pulled under the raging current. A few more returns blew through before the legendary Tom Murphy (D-Bremen)–speaker of the House since Jimmy Carter was governor–was gone, as well as U.S. Sen. Max Cleland (D). Four Democratic state senators jumped the leaking, listing ship, creating a Republican majority in the state Senate that promised to neuter the last remaining authority figure from the old regime, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor (D).
While the eye of the Republican hurricane cut a swath through Georgia that would have made Sherman blanch, the storm left its mark on neighboring states as well. Democratic governors in Alabama and South Carolina both of whom had won dramatic election victories in 1998–also were left jobless.
The rise of Republicanism in Georgia fed off similar foils in each of the three states: Ham-handed, establishment-groomed incumbents who ran somewhat clever-by-half administrations, pushed education reforms that fell short of expectations, and presided over parties that attacked to varying extents traditional Dixie symbols at the behest of black activists and business leaders. Similar stories have wrought a political transformation across the South in the last four decades.
Consider these contrasts: In 1976, Jimmy Carter won a close election by carrying every Southern state but Virginia. In the 2000 presidential race, Al Gore, the Southern vice-president of the incumbent two-term Democratic administration, won the popular vote nationwide, but was unable to carry a single Southern state.
Most of the South’s governors and three-fifths of its congressmen are now Republican. The once omnipotent Southern Democratic Party is dying in the regions outside the central cities, and while expanding minority voter strength coupled with immigration from the North and abroad may revive it, that phenomenon probably won’t reach critical mass for at least two decades.
Presented here are studies of the campaigns that led to last year’s ouster of Barnes and fellow Democratic governors Jim Hodges (S.C.) and Don Siegelman (Ala.). They provide plenty of clues as to why they lost.
Smilin’ Sonny the Exterminator
An affable, salt-of-the-earth good at’ boy scores a stunning upset, depicting the incumbent as a rampaging rodent
Media consultant Fred Davis flopped down on his motel bed and stared at the ceiling in frustration. He had swooped into Atlanta from his Hollywood base days earlier and been wrangling with the other members of his client’s brain trust ever since. Try as they might, they could not come up with a campaign focus that would distinguish state Sen. Sonny Perdue (R) from his two better-known opponents for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in Georgia. That set him on the uphill road to victory in November 2002.
“The campaign was floundering for a message,” Davis recalls. “We had no defining issues; nothing that would give us traction was springing into mind.”
The primary was now less than five months away, and while Perdue had once been a rising star in Democratic circles and assistant majority leader of the state Senate before his 1998 party switch, he was still relatively unknown to the state’s voters. The GOP front–runner was thought to be Linda Schrenko, the state superintendent of education who had a broad following among teachers. There was also longtime Cobb County Commission Chair Bill Byrne to contend with, an articulate, suburban leader familiar to voters in the dominating Atlanta media market.
“We thought about contrasts we could draw between Sonny and his primary opponents, but nothing came of it,” Davis continues. “Then we started thinking, maybe Roy Barnes’ bad things would outweigh the fact we didn’t have any major proposals. We decided the worst thing about Roy Barnes was he was perceived as a dictator, but that’s a tough proposition to run on.”
Vermin In Ermine
So Davis continued to toss on his rented bed, wondering how Perdue could dramatize Barnes’ high-handed style and sell himself as the antidote. Half-conscious and suffering the effects of a spicy dinner, the media man suddenly found a gigantic rodent stalking through his mind.
“The press was already calling [Barnes] ‘King Roy,’ so I began to envision this giant rat with a crown on his head, hugging the capitol dome and rampaging through the state, grabbing everything in sight.”
The next day he pitched the idea to Perdue’s trusty manager Scott Rials, spokesman Dan McLagen (former communications director for the late U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell) and general consultant John Watson, who had been starting a concrete business before Davis called him out of retirement.
The reaction was mixed, with several mammals and insects being offered as less offensive substitutes for Davis’ nightmare. Rials pushed so hard for a Gov. Possum that he became known to the campaign as “Possum Boy.”
In desperation, the trio finally agreed to star “King Roy the Rat” in a campaign video that would be distributed to activists and’ the news media, and made available for downloading on the campaign’s Web site. There was just one problem.
“Sonny Perdue is not a negative man,” says Davis. “He would not allow negative attacks. Now, some people would consider portraying your opponent as a literal rat as being negative.” Davis succeeded in convincing Perdue his project would be more on the order of humorous satire. The candidate thought about the concept for two days and then gave the green light.
He was soon wondering what he had gotten himself into. The elaborate Hollywood production involved sets constructed in Nashville, myriad special effects, helicopters and Lear jets with mounted cameras strafing Georgia cities and the countryside, and a $40,000 custom-made rat suit complete with its own air-conditioning system. Production costs zoomed past $150,000, more than half the campaign’s available cash, all for a 10-minute promotion that would be available only through direct contact. Like fellow Georgian Ted Turner, Perdue now had his own “Gods and Generals” epic.
Davis insists he is not a profligate auteur on the order of Erich von Stroheim or Michael Cimino. “We got the rat suit for half-price by agreeing to return it to the maker after the campaign,” he adds.
From green light to premiere, the project took 45 days. As the video showed the royal rodent clawing its way over Stone Mountain and storming down Peachtree Street, several staffers began to feel as if their tails were caught in a gargantuan trap.
“Every three or four days a movement would pop up at headquarters to ‘Kill the Rat,'” Davis chuckles. “To his credit, Sonny stuck to his guns. He assured me … ‘You go on making it because I told you you could. But don’t be surprised if I it.'”
By the time Davis’ magnum opus was finished, the campaign had no such luxury It had sunk most of its eggs into this basket and could hardly turn back.
Oddly, such is an integral theme of the video; while Barnes depicted as imperious and ravenously power-hungry, Perdue comes off as a daring innovator,. His life from rural Bonaire to veterinarian to successful agribusiness man to fast-rising legislator is warmly traced, but contrasted to high relief with his party shift and state-of-the-art ideas for using technology.
“Sonny Perdue thinks outside the box,” declares a testimonial from former state Attorney General Mike Bowers, and few viewing this bold campaign gambit could argue.
In the Cat(bird) Seat
The premier was set for a $1,000 per-couple-gala at Atlanta’s historic Roxy Theater on May 21, with a large squad of reporters in tow. The reaction was volcanic. The audience roared its raucous appreciation throughout the event, the press swarmed Perdue after his closing remarks, and the furry feature was front-page news the next day.
Innocently titled “A New Day Dawning,” the film quickly became known across the state as “The King Rat Video.” The campaign had neglected to increase the capacity of its Web site, however, and three weeks passed before it was reconfigured to handle all the demands for downloads of the 106-megabyte vermin video. It turned into an instant political cult classic.
“We jumped all over it,” admits Barnes Manager Tim Phillips. “We made the judgment [Perdue] was the opponent we wanted, perhaps erroneously as it turned out, so we worked to raise his ID with this thing, but in a negative way” Legendary Georgia political pundit Bill Shipp voiced the opinion of many in his fraternity when he pronounced the rat flick a fatal gaffe.
More surprisingly, Perdue’s GOP primary opponents also bashed him for his undignified pouncing on the Democratic governor. Two months later, Byrne was still declaring the video had hurt the credibility of the party and the integrity of the candidates.
Quipster McLagen blasted through the opening, telling the press the primary was a “battle between Sonny and the two apologists for Roy Barnes.”
A Barnes apologist was not likely to generate a great deal of sympathy, particularly in Republican or rural Georgia. A long-time conservative, can-do legislator before his decisive 1998 gubernatorial victory over a wealthy but inept Republican, Barnes had alienated many key constituencies during his tenure as governor. What made the central thrust of the Perdue video so telling was the long trail of emotional wreckage the governor had left in the wake of his steamrolling the opposition on three controversial fronts:
* An education overhaul package that lowered class sizes (sticking local government with much of the cost) , provided more money for problem students, took away teachers’ right to a fair dismissal hearing, and graded teachers and schools for a system of rewards and punishments. Touted by Barnes as the “A-Plus Educational Reform Act,” the plan alienated many teachers, who felt the governor was fingering them as responsible for the state’s low test scores.
* A new state flag, replacing one dominated by the Confederate battle flag, which had been adopted during the era in response to desegregation orders from the federal government. Barnes re-ignited this long-simmering controversy with a stealth campaign in the legislature that gave him his new banner in a matter of days.
* A “Northern Arc” superhighway that would cut a 59-mile swath through Atlanta’s northern suburbs. After it was revealed that several members of the commissions administering the project had economic interests along the route, Barnes put it on hold in early July, saying it would resume after the legislature had time to consider new conflict-of-interest legislation.
The arc was of limited concern to the governor’s campaign staff as the great majority of suburbanites arrayed against it usually voted Republican anyway. But the first two issues promised to be significant hurdles to his reelection.
“Teachers and their supporters are a cornerstone of any Democratic coalition in the South,” explains Jim Andrews, who handled Zell Miller’s 1994 re-election as governor. “A Democrat can’t have the education community against them and win.”
Negative reaction to the flag initiative was widespread among older, rural and conservative voters, although the extent to which the issue would cut was unknown. Squads of protesters (“flaggers”) dogged the governor’s public appearances waving the old flag, and “Boot Barnes” signs featuring the banished banner began sprouting along rural roads. But the great bulk of the neo-Confederate constituency remained ominously quiet until Election Day.
All Three Fronts
Perdue attacked Barnes on all three of these controversial fronts. He blasted the Northern Arc as a corrupt boondoggle in behalf of developers, and proposed improvement of existing roadways and facilitation of telecommuting as alternative means of relieving traffic congestion that would not boost Atlanta’s already burgeoning sprawl. He commiserated with offended teachers, pledged a return of policy authority to the largely gutted state Department of Education, and advocated more flexibility for schools that performed well. Perdue also promised to fight for a referendum on the old flag, which became a fixture at his rallies, brought by enthusiastic supporters. The emotional issue remained a small segment of the rural legislator’s campaign communications, however.
By aiming all his firepower at Barnes while Schrenko and Byrne defended the governor against the rat video, Perdue became the rallying point for anti-Barnes sentiment.
“Get over it Schrenko, Byrne and Shipp,” editorialized the Gwinnett Gazette in suburban Atlanta. “….The ‘King Rat’ video is on point…and funny.”
While he terms the rat device “over the top,” Journal-Constitution political analyst Tom Baxter concedes, “It was extremely effective at hanging Barnes with the ‘King Roy’ image: Arrogant and aloof.”
Through June, Perdue began to pull away from his intraparty rivals in fund-raising and established himself as the likely nominee. By mid-July, more than a month before the balloting, Schrenko and Byrne had publicly agreed to back whichever of them made the run-off with the old veterinarian.
The game for Perdue now became avoiding such a face-off. As Schrenko had the softest support and was his top rival outside metro Atlanta, Perdue hit her with an attack mailer received by seniors in the last 10 days of the campaign. Utilizing a February story in the Journal-Constitution, the piece trumpeted: “Linda Schrenko spent more taxpayers’ money on travel than any other state elected official–including the governor.” The amount was only $26,000 and exceeded the governor’s expense only because his bills went to several state agencies, but the impression left was harmful.
At the same time, 220,000 voter guides were distributed by Georgia Right to Life, obliquely endorsing Perdue and Byrne but not Schrenko. After leading some polls as late as a month before the primary, the education superintendent slipped into a free fall down the stretch.
Sensing blood, Perdue dipped into his runoff reserve to finish the job early. Outspending Byrne 4-to-1 and Schrenko nearly 3-to-1 overall, he committed $400,000 for television in the last three weeks (a quarter of his total primary spending), a blitz his strapped opponents could not match. The aggressive push paid off in the Aug. 20 balloting, as Perdue barely escaped a run-off: Perdue–259,966 (50.8 percent); Schrenko–142,911 (27.9 percent); Byrne–108,586 (21.2 percent).
The Democratic primaries produced a few fireworks as well. The most controversial father-daughter team in American political history went down in flames, as black U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney and her father, state Rep. Billy McKinney, lost their seats.
Cynthia McKinney had incurred the wrath of her constituents by suggesting that the Bush administration might have known about the Sept. 11 attacks in advance, but let them occur in order to have a pretext for invading the Arab world in search of profit. When Billy McKinney had been asked why his daughter’s renomination was in jeopardy, he responded with “J-E-W-S.” Frequently volatile and erratic, Billy McKinney had termed his primary opponent “a Klansmen” because he was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).
While the McKinneys would have been a dangerous drag to the Democratic ticket among conservative whites had they cleared the primary, both were now embittered by the cold shoulder they received from the party in their struggle for survival. Some speculated black turnout in November might suffer as a result.
Even more ominous for the party in power was that for the first time in history, more Georgia voters requested a Republican primary ballot than a Democratic one.
Hiding the Report Card
A week after the primary, state averages for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) were released. Georgia’s score remained static, but a surging South Carolina had left the Peach State in the national basement: 50th place.
The governor had some explaining to do, and Perdue made sure Barnes would be asked for it, early and often. Less than two hours after the scores were announced, the Republican held a statehouse news conference to lay the blame at the doorstep of the Barnes administration, declaring “135 years of one-party rule has failed the children of this state.”
Barnes’ response was not directly contradictory. “You’re paying now for what they failed to do years ago,” he assessed, contending that his changes had not yet had enough time to work. “….The kids who took those tests were in the 11th grade when our reforms took effect. To expect instant results would be disingenuous.”
Barnes Manager Phillips believes the SAT rap was a tough, unfair hit that just had to be absorbed: “In some states, only kids bound for top colleges take that test. In Georgia, most everybody takes it. But you can’t explain that in a campaign context.”
Two weeks later, after a brief campaign hiatus around the observances of Sept. 11, the governor’s campaign launched an offensive on the education front.
Barnes toured the state in tandem with Lt. Gov. Taylor and US. Sen. Zell Miller (D), celebrating the 10th college freshman class to receive Miller’s extremely popular Hope scholarships. The program uses money earmarked from the state lottery to provide free tuition, books and fee waivers for Georgia college students who maintain at least a B average. Instituted in September 1993-a year before Miller narrowly won re-election–it is universally credited with having brought “Ol’ Zell” back from the political dead, after his unsuccessful effort to drop the Confederate emblem from the state flag had tanked his numbers. More than 630,000 students had benefited from the program.
Following the Hope tour–and the glow of renewed public reverence that again enveloped George W Bush after the Sept. 11 anniversary–Barnes briefly met with the president in the Oval Office for a friendly chat and snapshots. The next day, a Barnes education spot went up trumpeting the governor’s support of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” school reform law, showing the pair together at the bill’s signing. The ad goes on to claim Barnes’ own state reforms (so reviled by Perdue) were patterned after the ones Bush instituted in Texas in the mid-1990s.
To cap things off, Barnes had dinner with the first President Bush in Kennebunkport that weekend, as part of the former president’s “National Dialogue on Cancer.”
In a breathtaking 10-day foray behind enemy lines, Barnes had captured the Republicans’ biggest guns and used them to strengthen his most vulnerable position. The exasperation in the Perdue camp was palpable. “Georgia can’t afford four more years of Roy Barnes’ education atrocities,” McLagen snapped to the press in response. “If he won another term, Somalia would likely pass us in SAT scores.”
Can’t Buy Me Love
It should not be surprising that both Barnes and Miller have warm relationships with the Republican top brass. One reason Georgia Democrats were able to hold onto power in Georgia while the GOP tide swept across Dixie was the character of their leadership. Beginning with George Busbee in 1974, the Democrats elected three two-term governors from rural areas who were fiscally conservative allies of business. Barnes largely continued this tradition in 1998, although he came from the Atlanta suburbs.
Meanwhile, the Republican primaries were dominated by suburban voters in metro Atlanta, home to the party’s gubernatorial nominees between 1978 and 1998. Rural Georgians tend to be more distrustful of metro Atlanta than they are of the Democratic Party, so Republican inroads in the state were stunted. But in 2002, Republicans had nominated Perdue and U.S. Senate challenger Saxby Chambliss, both from rural middle Georgia, suggesting the tables might be turned.
True to the conservative legacy of Barnes’ predecessors, he slashed state property taxes by $349 million, and responded to the recession by freezing state hiring and cutting the budget 5 percent. He built such a fiscally conservative record that the Cato Institute–a D.C.-based libertarian think tank–rated only two governors higher on tax-cutting. (Pointing out that Barnes had also increased the state debt to $6 billion, Perdue spokesman McLagen scoffed at the ranking, dryly suggesting Cato must have “knocked off early for cocktails that day.”)
In fact, most Capitol observers say it was Barnes’ relationship with business that ultimately convinced him to push through the flag switch. Acknowledging the political liability connected to the action, the three-piece suits assured the governor and his allies that business would be there for them when it was time to fill the campaign coffers.
“Roy Barnes figured ‘Even if people are mad at me over [the flag switch], the business contributions will help me over the rough spots,”‘ assesses Georgia State political scientist Michael Binford. “Evidently there are some things money can’t get you past.”
One result of the “dump the flag” deal was the Georgia Business Political Action Committee, which raised $155,000 from just six donors, including Home Depot, Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola. But after dispensing funds during the primary to 44 legislators who had supported the new flag, the PAC all but shut down.
Business continued to show its appreciation of Barnes throughout the campaign, however. By the end of September he had amassed more than $17.8 million in contributions, compared with less than $2.5 million for Perdue, a 7-to-l ratio. Moreover, heading into the final weeks of the campaign he held a cash-on-hand advantage of $7.6 million to $450,000–a 17-to-1 bulge.
When a reporter suggested Perdue’s stand on the flag had alienated him from business contributors, Barnes agreed. “If I could get him to speak to every business group in the state, I would,” he insisted. Noting Perdue was promising change on several fronts, the governor observed that “businesses all seek security, stability and safety.”
Barnes’ offer to be his challenger’s booking agent may have been facetious, but a similar action by Perdue was not. Starting Oct. 1, the Republican’s Web site actually provided links to 15 of the governor’s TV spots, then available for downloading off the Barnes site. The challenger’s strategists figured voters were already so sick of being bombarded by Barnes spots for nearly six months and that loading on even more exposure would constitute aversion therapy.
Indeed, it did not seem Barnes’ overwhelming advantage in advertising had done much to expand his support. A Journal-Constitution/WSB-TV poll taken at the end of September showed him only seven points ahead with 7 percent undecided.
This survey also revealed striking cleavages in the electorate and the suggestion of realignment. Barnes led in the suburbs (traditionally Republican) by seven points; Perdue led in the rural areas (traditionally Democratic) by seven points. This switch — combined with the fact only one black voter of the 103 surveyed backed Perdue — suggested the flag issue might be of unexpectedly high salience. The gender gap was staggering; men supported Perdue by 11 points, while women backed Barnes by 24. Most sobering news for the incumbent: Perdue’s competitive showing came despite the fact 53 percent of voters did not know enough about him to form an opinion.
Perhaps the most fascinating revelation of the extensive poll was found on a question about the switch in the state flag two years before. The change was disapproved of by a 41 to 24 percent margin. Whites opposed the change by a startling 51 to 20 percent, while blacks backed it 39 to 11 percent. While more than a third of the electorate had no opinion, it was becoming clear that many who disapproved cared very much indeed.
Among these people were three brothers approaching retirement age in the western exurbs of Atlanta: Elijah, Joel and Dan Coleman. All were infuriated by Barnes’ legislative blitzkrieg that wrought the flag change before most people noticed what was happening.
Elijah — a retired motel owner/operator — was the first to act. He immediately erected a 24-foot flagpole on his property lust to fly the old state flag with its dominant Rebel symbol. Many other Georgians also began displaying the flag, but following the terrorist strike on Sept. 11,2001, Elijah noticed a change. The surge of nationalistic solidarity sweeping the nation led his neighbors to strike their regionalist colors.
“I was the only one flying the flag,” he recalls, “and I couldn’t sit still for that.” So he started trying to persuade others to follow his lead with 24-foot monuments to the old state banner. “It was tough going at first, but now they’re popping up all over the place,” he reports, proud the number erected has recently passed 1,000.
When the governor hit the re-election campaign trail, Elijah made sure groups waving the old state flag greeted him at every scheduled stop. (Not content with just one target, these flaggers soon dogged the steps of campaigning state legislators who had backed the new banner.)
Brother Joel — a real estate broker – opened a new front by buying a run of 1,000 “Boot Barnes” yard signs featuring the old flag. He started a roadside phenomenon in Georgia. Brother Dan — a lawyer — soon became the voice of the flag movement in his capacity as spokesman for the state chapter of the SCV.
The Heritage Preservation Association, the League of the South, the Southern Party and units of Confederate re-enactors also joined the campaign, demanding a referendum to return the old banner and get rid of those “scalawags” who had brought it down.
“Thanks to the Internet,” says Elijah, “we were all able to stay uniform” in message and coordinated in activity, which included radio advertising.
Their message resonated and not just with Confederate descendants.
“People who moved down there from the Midwest 20 to 30 years ago were among the loudest yelling about this violation of their heritage,” marvels Barnes media consultant Ray Strother, a native Louisianan who viewed the movement as little more than thinly veiled racism. Phillips agrees, likening the old flag to “putting a swastika on the modern flag of Germany.”
But Dave Beattie — the pollster in the Democrat’s stable — is not so harsh. “It’s not a matter of being racist,” he opines. “It’s just people from different backgrounds interpreting symbols in different ways …. Some voted against [Barnes] because of the flag; others didn’t like the way he did it. With other issues, it contributed to this image that he didn’t listen, and that cost him dearly.”
The Journal–Constitution’s Baxter agrees: “The flag change moved quite a few votes, but not in isolation….Somebody who didn’t like it would also have a friend who had been unemployed since the mill closed and a daughter who was a teacher who had her expected tenure taken away. That would do it. It was a union of networks that moved a lot of Democratic votes [to Perdue], especially in the rural areas.”
While Strother and Phillips believe Perdue made a conscious appeal to racism, media consultant Davis considers the Republican’s approach on the flag issue as subdued. “In all his campaign communications, I never heard Sonny say anything [about the flag issue] other than, ‘The people should have a voice.”‘
The Unknown Vs. the Unforgiven
Having made large inroads into the rural vote, Perdue’s task down the stretch was to reclaim GOP-leaning suburbanites who suspected he was a hayseed. As he had been able to afford very little paid media exposure, many of these people knew him only as a balding, pudgy good ol’ boy who depicted the governor as a rat and had rallies replete with Confederate symbols.
His first opportunity to make a better impression came Oct. 8, at the campaign’s first debate. Held in Perry, just down the road from his home in Bonaire, the event was taped for statewide broadcast five days later on public TV stations.
The “Sonny Country” crowd waved 1,000 Perdue signs, but the Barnes campaign had bused in hundreds of union members from Atlanta and Macon. The two groups tried to shout each other down, and police were called in to keep the peace.
As the candidates virtually shouted to be heard, Barnes soon found himself on the defensive over jobs. His first two years in office had seen an explosion in employment, but the third year had been a disaster: 80,000 jobs lost, the biggest downturn in a country saddled with a sluggish economy. His response: “I could blame a national party or a national leader, but I’m not going to do that.”
When the state’s burgeoning deficit was raised, the governor countered with his Cato ranking for fiscal conservatism. But when Perdue pounced on the SAT ranking, Barnes could only promise future progress.
A week later, the governor tried to mend fences on the education issue by unveiling a new set of friendlier reforms: Bigger bonuses for teachers at schools with gains on curriculum tests; extra pay for veteran teachers trained to mentor rookie colleagues; and “combat pay” for teachers willing to transfer to schools with poor test scores. Perdue countered by calling for classes that coached students in preparation for the SATs.
If Barnes was in trouble with teachers he appeared to make up for it Oct. 9 by signing on an equally powerful grass-roots lobby that seemed to be a natural ally for Perdue: The National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA had backed Barnes in 1998 because he had compiled an anti-gun control record in the legislature. The conservative Democrat had been no less friendly to the gun lobby as governor, so the association had little motivation to switch to the underdog challenger. Moreover, Perdue had miffed the NRA in 1999 when he assembled a coalition that delayed action on a bill to prevent cities from pursuing liability suits against gun manufacturers. Perdue did this because the NRA was planning a celebration following the bill’s passage that would showcase Barnes.
Sensing the endorsement process was already locked and loaded, Perdue offered to shoot skeets with Barnes for the nod, to no avail. Now faced with the opposition of an influential group that represented 120,000 of his core constituents, the Republican was beginning to see his name linked with the pronoun “long-shot.”
Perdue ran a spot starting Oct. 15 that depicted him and his wife talking on the phone. The couple’s home number was posted on the screen along with numbers for Perdue’s cell phone and headquarters. “If you called the cell phone, you probably did talk to Sonny,” says Davis. “I saw him take hundreds of those calls on the trail.” Callers to the other numbers generally got a recorder for messages.
The point was to define the difference between Perdue and Barnes as down-home accessibility vs. dictatorial imperiousness. It was a perception fostered by none other than President Bush, who blew into Atlanta two days after Perdue’s air campaign launched, headlining a luncheon fund-raiser for the cash-strapped standard-bearer and ticket-mate Saxby Chambliss.
According to the leader of the free world, Sonny was a “down-to-earth fellow…no nonsense…a practical man” who “might not be the prettiest fellow to look at, but he can get the job done,”
Barnes campaign staffers were already moving fast to pre-empt Perdue’s budding viability. Two days before the president’s speech, they had released figures from their internal daily tracking poll for the first time. A seven-day “smear” of opinion readings ending Oct. 13 indicated the governor was up a staggering 17 points.
Hours after the president’s visit, news leaked that Georgia had won its ballyhooed competition with South Carolina for a $1 billion Daimler-Benz van plant. The apparent coup promised to shore up the governor’s economic development record, which had taken a beating in the wake of massive job losses over the previous seven quarters.
But details of the deal soon came to light that took the blush off the rose. The clincher appeared to be the state’s donation of a 1,500-acre site near Savannah, valued at $24 million. While Georgia had won the nod to be home to the proposed plant, the German automaker was still steadfastly refusing to commit to building it.
“Roy Barnes showed the state’s cards before the hand was finished being dealt,” carped Perdue. “…[He] will now have to acquiesce to virtually any conditions the carmaker wishes to make. It was politically motivated and showed extremely poor business sense.”
On Oct. 20, Perdue’s second TV ad of the campaign debuted, hammering at another Barnes soft spot: “We’re dead last in SAT scores,” the candidate reminds voters. “If that doesn’t convince you we need to try something new, nothing will.”
On the same day, the challenger’s campaign put two new radio ads up on its Web site, though neither had been aired. The idea was that Perdue supporters would become so inspired by one of these messages, they would download it and take it to the local station for airing at their own expense. One spot was directed at seniors, and the other focused on public corruption.
Corruption was a favorite topic of Perdue, as it dovetailed nicely with his theme that deeply entrenched one-party government had led to complacent performance. In doing so, he was trying to capitalize on a series of developments that produced a lot of smoke, but not much fire.
One legislator had been indicted for taking campaign contributions in exchange for assisting a convicted murderer, but the charges were later dropped. A top state senator was accused of taking advantage of state grants, but an audit found nothing illegal. Allegations of influence peddling had led two state parole board members to resign, but the case was still pending. And, of course, there were those conflict-of-interest charges leveled at the administrators of the Northern Arc, which had been iced while laws to outlaw such practices were considered.
None of these controversies had led to any proven violations, and the ties to Barnes were tenuous, but a climate had been created that led many Georgians to believe their state government routinely skirted the limits of lax ethics laws.
Perdue hit the issue this way in one radio ad: “When was the last time you picked up a Georgia newspaper without another big story about government corruption staring us in the face? That’s what happens when we let the same handful of people run our state and run our lives for so many years.”
Raising the Red Flag
The second televised debate-convened in the studios of WSB-TV Atlanta on Oct. 27–proved a significant boost to the challenger, if only because he acquitted himself well in identifying problems that faced the state and expounding on his proposed solutions. But beyond the almost given advantage such a platform afforded a little-known and under-funded candidate, Perdue also maneuvered the governor into defending his position on the flag issue.
When the Republican declared Barnes had divided the state by changing its flag, the incumbent challenged the notion, insisting the opposite had been his objective. Perdue retorted that if Barnes thought the flag switch hadn’t been divisive, he hadn’t been attending his own events, where flag protesters were usually much in evidence.
“Yes, I’ve been there when they’re holding up Confederate flags and Sonny Perdue signs,” the governor acknowledged. Clearly, he was trying to suggest Perdue represented a past that was best left forgotten.
“We probably should have showed [the flaggers] more to Georgia than we did,” muses Phillips. “The media ignored it to the end. Atlanta wasn’t aware of it.”
“Barnes carried white seniors in 1998,” observes pollster Dave Beattie while pinpointing the source of his client’s troubles. “But 79 percent of them opposed his changing of the flag.”
Barnes was more injured in the debate by a self-inflicted wound. While responding to criticisms leveled at his department of Family and Child Services after two foster children died the previous summer, the governor explained that in a population of 20,000 state–dependent children, “you’re going to have children dying every day.”
Although the governor later said he had misspoken and that no child dying in state custody was acceptable, his remark underscored his growing reputation as an insensitive grand-designer to whom common people were mere statistics, a voracious empire–builder who regarded potential opponents as obstacles to be evaded or crushed.
“Barnes irritated the stew out of me,” exclaimed Elizabeth Otwell, a suburban state employee who was part of a focus group of voters convened for the debate by the Journal-Constitution. “He just sat there clicking his pen. He was cocky..”
Half of the group, including Otwell, reported their preferences had shifted. All three had turned from Barnes.
“I went into this thinking Perdue was something of a doofus,” admitted rural horse farmer Michele Armstrong. “But he seemed more aware of the issues and more articulate in the debate than I thought he’d be.”
Back on the trail, an energized Perdue predictably pounced on Barnes’ child protection gaffe, decrying the governor’s failure to deliver on a computer system for state caseworkers that would have enabled them to quickly access extensive files on abused children and track foster children in state care. The Republican carried considerable credibility on the issue because he and his wife, Mary, had been foster parents.
Three days after the debate, the Perdue campaign delivered a spot to TV stations that carried a clip of Barnes’ controversial remark. WSB not only refused to run the ad, it immediately dispatched a letter to the other stations in the Atlanta area, suggesting Perdue’s use of the clip violated their copyright. After Perdue campaign lawyers filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court the next day, the station relented, saying the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had advised them they had an obligation to air the spot.
Meanwhile, the Barnes camp already had a response up and running. “Sonny Perdue opened his campaign calling Roy Barnes a rat,” it sneers. “Now he accuses him of hurting children. He’ll do or say anything.”
The Republicans howled long and loudly about the brief attempt at censorship, pointing out that the chiefs of WSB’s corporate family had contributed heavily to Barnes.
“We subsequently presented the spot as ‘the ad Roy Barnes doesn’t want you to see,'” chortles Fred Davis. “It gave us a big promo push.” Three–quarters of the campaign’s available cash was immediately invested in scheduling the attack ad.
When the 38,000-member Georgia Association of Educators announced eight days before the election that they would make no endorsement in the gubernatorial race, it came as no surprise, despite the group’s long-established reputation for political activism. But it highlighted the difficulty the governor was going to have fielding enough foot soldiers for a typically strong Democratic get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort.
In the Republican camp, state Chair Ralph Reed faced no such difficulties. Utilizing a nationally coordinated GOTV program called “The 72-Hour Project,” Reed mustered 3,000 volunteers and 500 paid workers who knocked on 150,000 doors in 600 target areas around the state. In the final two weeks, the Georgia GOP flooded the mail with 5.8 million pieces of literature and made 2.5 million phone calls to targeted voters.
Just 16 days after his last visit to Georgia, President Bush returned the Saturday before the election for rallies in the suburbs of Atlanta and Savannah. Most recent polls showed Sen. Cleland’s lead over Chambliss had diminished to the margin of error or less, and “Dubya” was eager to finish him off. Catching the fever, 400 GOP volunteers boarded nine buses leaving the president’s rally at the Cobb Galleria Centre north of Atlanta and knocked on 30,000 doors in Cobb, Gwinnett and Cherokee counties over the next five hours.
The following day, the gubernatorial candidates met for their third and final televised debate, which proved to be the most dramatic. Perdue held up a piece that had been mailed to black voters. Depicting a black family on one side and Perdue signs and Confederate flags on the other, the mailer bore the slogan “When they win, we lose.”
Glowering at the governor, the Republican demanded: “Who is ‘they’ and who is ‘we’ in this kind of demagoguery?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Barnes shot back, “but I will tell you this; we’re not the party and I’m not the candidate that has made an issue Out of changing the Georgia flag, and that wants to reopen this issue to divide us even further.”
Barnes refused to take responsibility for the mailer and attributed it instead to the Georgia Democratic Party. When he contended Perdue had posed with the old flag for newspaper photographers in appearances across the state, the challenger hooted the claim was “absolutely not true.”
When Perdue belittled the Daimler-Benz plant announcement for boasting of “fictitious jobs” from a plant that may never break ground, Barnes admonished him for raining on Georgia’s parade. And when the governor charged that Perdue would dismantle education reforms that were starting to reap benefits, the Republican reminded voters of Georgia’s dismal test scores.
“Gov. Barnes thinks he knows best how we should live our lives,” Perdue closed. “….If he knew best, we wouldn’t be last in SAT scores.”
While the challenger campaigned frantically toward the wire, the incumbent never seemed to shift out of second gear. Although he had already amassed nearly $20 million, Barnes attended several small, private fund–raisers in the final week.
On Election Day, the veteran Democratic organization tried not to take anything for granted. For the first time, they did not rely entirely on a network of clergy to turn out the vote in black neighborhoods, augmenting the effort with 1,000 canvassers.
“There was a tremendous turning of the tables,” observes Baxter. “In 1996 and 1998, the Democrats ran flagship races for turnout Every African-American household got recorded phone message from Bill Clinton This time, every identified Republican family got more than one call.”
On Election Day, Perdue stunned the political community and toppled Barnes. It was an upset heard around the nation and helped set the stage on election night for the 2002 GOT success story.
Despite the big Republican GOTY push. geographic turnout patterns did not differ markedly from 1998. The vote total was up percent, but up uniformly across the state. That meant the turnout percentage was up slightly more in urban and rural areas than in the suburbs because of relative population growth over the intervening four years; but in terms of geographic vote share, it was a rerun of four years before, when Barnes had won a 10-point victory.
The most striking difference was a catastrophic Barnes drop in the rural areas of middle and south Georgia. The governor’s vote share had plunged 25 points or more in 15 counties, 11 of which had been in Gen. Sherman’s plundering path 138 years before. Of the 30 counties within a within a 50-mile radius of Hazlehurst (Jeff Davis County), all saw a drop in the Barnes vote share of 20 points or more. The country vote had finally deserted the Democratic Party.
In the wake of the election, Barnes attributed his shocking loss to the flag change, and few pundits and consultants on the scene beg to differ. “If there had been no flag issue,” insists the former governor’s media strategist, Ray Strother, “we would have won by 10 points.
But there are those who insist the responsibility lies elsewhere.
In the post-mortems that followed Perdue’s startling triumph, the GOP hierarchy did its best to diminish the perceived impact of the flag issue and tried to channel credit toward appearances by President Bush and “The 72-Hour Project.”
The 72 project operated in some 30 states, training 15,000 activists who directed some 130,000 volunteers. In several states, their efforts catapulted off brief, late appearances by the president or high-profile surrogates. Polls routinely show a movement of two to five marginal points as a result. But in Georgia, the marginal shift for Senate nominee Chambliss was about eight points and about 15 for Perdue. Obviously, the bulk of the Georgia shift was caused by something other than an ambitious GOTV program.
Two phenomena could be responsible: A very unusual turnout pattern or a large bloc of self-conscious voters lying to polling interviewers.
The latter effect manifested itself in David Duke’s campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate in Louisiana more than a decade ago and may have been at work in the Mississippi flag referendum of 2001. In both cases the traditional Southern viewpoint was under–represented in poll results, perhaps because such views are socially unacceptable to many Americans. Some Perdue supporters may have felt constrained from acknowledging their politically incorrect choice.
Another plausible explanation for the Georgia difference is that older whites incensed by the flag change, were responsible for the rise in turnout. Exit polls would have tested this theory, but instead we are left with conjecture.
“One-time emotional issues are every pollster’s nightmare,” cringes Beattie, “They really foul up your turnout model.”
The Georgia Toteboard: Horses, Handlers, Wagers and Payoffs
Sonny Perdue (R) Roy Barnes (D inc.)
Manager Scott Rials Tim Phillips
Media Strategic Perception Strother Duffy Strother
Polling Tarrance Group Hamilton Beattie & Staff
Direct Mail Creative Direct Crounse Malchow Schlackman
General John Watson —–
Expenditures $3,655,202 $20,045,587
Votes 1,041,677 (51.4%) 937,062 (46.3%)
Around the Georgia Track The Course of Media Tracking Polls
6 wks. out (1) 3 wks out (2) 10 days out (3) Vote
Perdue (R) 42% 39% 40% 51.4%
Barnes (D) 49 48 51 46.3
Other/Undecided 9 13a 9 2.3
Margin 7D 9D 11D 5.1R
(1) For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV Atlanta; LVs, MOE
(2) Mason Dixon; LVs, MOE 4%.
(3) For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV Atlanta; LVs, MOE
How a free-spirited reformer ran a personalized campaign and took the helm of a conservative bastion.
South Carolina is not known to history as a beehive of avant-garde political reform. The spawning ground of such troglodytes as John C. Calhoun, “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman and Strom Thurmond, it was the last state to permit its voters to cast ballots for president (and then only after federal troops had occupied the place).
And yet, its new Republican governor is perhaps the freest-thinking holder of high elective office in the entire nation. The fact he ousted an archetypical politician from the people’s mansion makes his rise look all the more improbable.
Marshall “Mark” Sanford is an articulate, approachable and thoroughly likeable gentleman with an attractive, politically brilliant wife and four photogenic young sons. He also pays virtually no attention to political orthodoxy.
If you think this story is unfolding like a Hollywood fairy tale, you’re on the right track.
Palm Beach Populist
Sanford was born on the Gold Coast of South Florida, and while he grew up spending summers on his family’s historic South Carolina plantation, he was raised in the balmy nether regions of the Sunshine State, where he attended prep school. After earning a bachelor’s degree in business from Furman, he entered the University of Virginia’s business school.
Interning at Goldman Sachs in Manhattan, Sanford met Jenny Sullivan at a beach party in the Hamptons in the summer of 1987. An investment banker at Lazard Freres, Sullivan was Georgetown magna cum laude and the granddaughter of the founder of Skil Corp., manufacturers of power tools. In 1989, they were married in the tony paradise of Hobe Sound, Fla., where the bride’s parents had moved after decades of living near Chicago.
After a couple of years in New York, the couple settled in Charleston. As their family began to take shape, they moved from the downtown area to an oceanfront home on nearby Sullivan’s Island.
So far, this would appear to be a story of privileged people, but the Sanfords are a very unaffected mom-and-pop operation and not very rich by modern standards: the new governor is worth about $3 million. Their new home was a nearly a ruin when they bought it “because it was the only thing we could afford on the beach,” Jenny has said.
In 1994, when local U.S. Rep. Arthur Ravenel (R) opted to run for governor, Sanford entered the contest for his seat and won an upset victory in the Republican primary, with Jenny managing his campaign. After posting a surprisingly strong 66 percent victory in November, Sanford proved popular enough in office to win his two succeeding terms without significant opposition.
In the entire Congress, there was no truer adherent to the populist spirit of the 1994 voter revolt. A member of the Government Reform Committee, Sanford shunned PAC money, returned more than $250,000 of his office budget each year to the U.S. Treasury, and slept on the floor of his office rather than claim his $3,000 monthly housing allowance. A champion of term limits, he pledged to leave office after six years; a pure fiscal conservative, he voted against pork projects even when they were earmarked for his district. Taxpayer groups regularly showered him with their highest accolades.
The upstart’s maverick ways were further demonstrated during the 2000 presidential race, when he backed moderate maverick John McCain against the favorite of the state Republican establishment, George W. Bush. But rather than hinder his political advancement, Sanford’s devotion to principle made him a formidable candidate for 2002. “Most voters were looking for change,” says Clemson political scientist David Woodard. “He was a credible agent of change, unlike the doctrinaire politicians in Columbia.”
Leaving Congress as promised in January 2001, Sanford told friends his future plans were unclear, but that he would probably get a private sector job and become a scout master. Less than three months later, he announced he was running for governor.
Up the Ladder
Incumbent Gov. Jim Flodges (D) had been a far more conventional politician, quickly working his way up the ladder in predictable ways. But his elevation to the governorship in 1998 had been a surprise, the result of rare opportunities efficiently exploited.
A lawyer first elected to the state House in 1986, Hodges eventually became chair of the Judiciary Committee, but soon lost the gavel when Republicans took control of the chamber. He then became Democratic leader in the House, often locking horns with Republican Gov. David Beasley. When two better-known Democrats backed off from challenging Beasley’s 1998 re-election bid, Hodges stepped into the void.
As it turned out, Beasley gave him a lot to work with. The notoriously mutable governor had managed to alienate both sides in the controversy of the Confederate flag flying over the Capitol, took an unpopular stance against holding a referendum on a state lottery to fund education (which he backed earlier), and earned the enmity of gambling interests by trying to shut down the state’s $2 billion video poker industry.
Though legislator Hodges had favored striking the rebel colors, opposed a lottery and had been a bitter critic of video poker, gubernatorial candidate Hodges now inverted his agenda: No initiative on the flag, institute the lottery and hold a referendum to decide the fate of video poker. Boosted by heritage groups and school advocates, and bankrolled by the gambling industry, Hodges defeated a GOP governor in this Republican state while business was booming.
The betting at the time was Hodges would be a one-term blip. Not only would the GOP likely have a more confidence-inspiring candidate in 2002, the festering controversies over the flag and video gambling would likely take a toll on a Democratic chief exec facing a Republican-controlled Legislature.
But Hodges’ luck continued to hold. The state Supreme Court did in video poker, and the flag was moved in a compromise largely crafted by Republicans. The lottery was approved in a 2000 referendum, and the Palmetto State’s long-suffering school system finally appeared to be making progress.
Hodges also retained some geographical advantages. He hailed from the textile–producing “upcountry,” in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This had been the first region to industrialize and then turn Republican. That gave him some appeal to a large bloc of conservative voters who normally supported the GOP.
The other distinct geographic identity in the state is the “lowcountry”–lower elevations near the sea that include an affluent coast that is Republican but socially moderate, and flat areas inland that have a large black population and vote Democratic. In between these grand divisions is the “midlands,” a transitional region centered on Columbia that leans Democratic in state elections.
Despite the governor’s strengths, Sanford had plenty of company on the GOP primary ballot:
* Attorney General Charlie Condon – a hyperactive publicity hound from the lowcountry who made repeal of the property tax the centerpiece of his campaign. An active defender of Confederate heritage, Condon had catered to the hard right. Set to run for the open U.S. Senate seat, he switched races to retain the services of his old mentor, Richard Quinn, publisher of Southern Partisan magazine and an accomplished campaign operative.
* Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler–a perennial adversary of Gov. Hodges who seemed to be following the Beasley formula of a home base in the conservative, heavily Republican upcountry, combined with strong support from social conservatives. The apparent favorite of the party establishment, the dairyman-turned-politician had inherited much of the organization that won the bitterly contentious 2000 presidential primary for Bush. His principal deficiency: A zero reading on the charisma meter.
* Secretary of State Jim Miles–a low-profile pragmatist who subsequently drew little financial support or media attention.
* Ken Wingate–a Columbia attorney and accountant who spearheaded opposition to the lottery during the 2000 referendum. The son-in-law of Jim Edwards (the dentist-turned governor who later became Ronald Reagan’s energy secretary), he was long on thoughtful analysis, short on political ammunition.
* Reb Sutherland–a self-described nuclear scientist, freelance journalist, actress and former schoolteacher; who was active in right-wing women’s groups and the Confederate heritage movement.
To political handicappers, Peeler was the front runner in the race for the GOP nod and a lock for a runoff spot. Condon was assumed to be his strongest competition, and speculation centered on whether the attorney general could pick up enough support from Sanford supporters to win the runoff.
Little-known outside his old congressional district, Sanford was viewed as something of an underdog. Once again, Jenny was managing his operation out of the family basement, fielding calls when she wasn’t cooking for the boys. Was this anyway to run a high-stakes campaign?
Not long after throwing his hat into the gubernatorial ring, Sanford had quietly joined a medical squadron of the Air Force Reserves at the age of 41, necessitating the sacrifice of a weekend per month for training throughout the campaign.
“Joining the Air Force Reserves didn’t make practical sense for someone in his position at that time,” says Jon Lerner, Sanford’s sole political consultant. “But he felt it was the right thing to do and didn’t worry about the implications. In retrospect it looks ridiculous. He thought he could do [it] and not have it leak to the press, that it could be kept quiet.”
By that time, Lerner had learned never to be surprised by something his client did.
Sanford had been the darling of the term limits movement when Lerner was executive director of US. Term Limits (USTL), the principal clearinghouse for the cause. Yet somehow they did not meet until a few months after Lerner had left USTL and hung out a consulting shingle.
“We finally met for the first time in May 2001 in Greenville, where Mark was about to give the commencement address at Furman University,” Lerner recalls. “He came out wearing a towel and shook hands.”
After the candidate was more formally attired, the consultant laid out how a low–country McCainite could win a Republican primary dominated by doctrinaire conservatives from the upcountry Sanford thought he would be best served by a small shop handling all aspects of the campaign–finance, strategy, advertising and polling–and Lerner agreed to take on the task.
Despite the lack of heavy artillery, the Sanford campaign would not be short of ammunition. A group of wealthy low-country business people had been instrumental in luring the former congressman into the race, and he maintained valuable financial connections in Charleston, New York and Florida. By the end of 2001, he had $1.5 million cash on hand, significantly more than Peeler ($1 million) or Condon ($650,000). The other Republicans trailed far behind.
Sanford’s platform planks represented the candidate’s top priorities: School vouchers, an 18-year phaseout of the state income tax and an immediate gas tax hike to help make up the resulting shortfall in revenue.
“The selection of issues was all Mark,” explains Lerner. “There was no planning on that or even strategic consideration. He knew what he wanted to run on.”
Polls indicated property taxes were the electorate’s biggest concern; vouchers were not that popular, and the elimination of the income tax did not appear to be within the realm of possibility, according to most people’s frame of reference. As ever, Condon was the hopeful one who appeared poised to cash in on public opinion.
Whatever question he was asked, Condon proved a master at wrapping the answer around his crusade to abolish property taxes. His message took on a populist tone, emphasizing he would make up lost revenues by closing loopholes in the sales tax, such as the $175 million industry saved by being exempted from the sales tax on fuel. Peeler complained that Condon wanted to tax Bibles.
The lieutenant governor’s own proposals included “streamlined government” and “zero-based budgeting.” His education plan called for Internet filters, the 10 commandments and silent prayer. Not to be co-opted on the axe the tax front, Peeler advocated gradually doing away with car and real estate taxes on individuals. He dropped the name of President Bush as often as possible, perhaps to remind listeners he had most of the old Bush primary staff back at the headquarters.
A poll taken for Hodges at the beginning of the year put Condon in front of the GOP primary pack with 24 percent, followed by Peeler (22 percent), Sanford (16 percent) and Miles (6 percent). Four months later–less that four weeks before the primary–a SurveyUSA poll for WLTX-TV in Columbia showed Peeler up to 34 percent, while Condon (23 percent) and Sanford (17 percent) remained static; all others were mired in the low single digits.
Independent expenditure groups had already started attacking Condon and would continue to do so until primary day. Sanford also came under fire for not being a real Republican because he opposed slashing the state Medicaid budget to the point federal matching funds would be withdrawn and had supported the McCain-Feingold campaign finance overhaul bill.
But Sanford had by far the largest war chest entering the stretch (a 3 to 1 cash advantage over Peeler with two weeks to go), and he invested virtually all of it in a positive broadcast campaign that emphasized his family, farm background and plan to phase out income taxes. (In truth, his bandbox campaign operation could not physically operate much more than an air campaign.) By contrast, Peeler ran a traditional full-scale operation, with plenty of consultants, county chairs, yard signs and foot soldiers.
The result on June 11 was a shock; Sanford actually ran first, with 39 percent to 38 percent for Peeler. Condon trailed badly with 16 percent, while each of the others polled less than 4 percent.
Nice Guys Finish First
With the runoff a mere two weeks away, a shocked Peeler wasted no rime donning brass knuckles.
“These next two weeks will be a spirited campaign,” he told supporters on primary night. “The voters will be able to focus on our records, and I intend to point out the differences. I was really raised in rural South Carolina. I sent my children to real public schools. And, I drive a real red pickup truck.”
The broadside was an attempt to brand Sanford’s image as the phony creation of a dishonest TV blitz. The ex-congressman’s advertising had contended he was raised on a Beaufort County farm, though he spent most of his youth in Florida. It prominently featured his young sons who attended private schools and might, Sanford admitted, be home-schooled if he was elected.
From that beginning, the Peeler campaign took a south fork, charging Sanford with being soft on abortion (though his rating from the National Abortion Rights League was zero), gun rights (NRA rating: “A”), homosexuals (Christian Coalition score: 100 percent) and breast cancer (though his wife and mother were both cancer victims). In the runoff debate–held the Sunday before the balloting–Peeler seemed to reach around the world, blasting Sanford for owning 6 percent of a company that owned 17 percent of an employment agency that referred 181 illegal of support for the military, U.S. Rep. Lindsey immigrants to a client in 1997.
When a Peeler ad depicted a soldier in his underwear to symbolize Sanford’s alleged lack (R)–the party’s consensus nominee for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by near-centenarian Strom Thurmond–decided he’d enough and appeared in a Sanford spot upbraiding the lieutenant governor for his negative campaign. Condon soon followed suit, still smarting from attacks endured in the primary that blamed on Peeler allies. Radio endorsements backing Sanford were recorded by two sons of former Gov. Carroll Campbell (R), who then cut a pro-Sanford TV spot of his own.
The last endorsement was a crushing coup de grace for Peeler. A revered Reaganesque figure in South Carolina, Campbell had been an upcountry congressman before serving two successful terms as governor. With the late, legendary strategist Lee Atwater, he built a vaunted political organization that engineered the GOP ascendancy in the state and was credited with the crucial presidential primary victories that nominated both George Bushes. Popular with conservative Christians, he was considered the father of the state party, much as Thurmond was considered a grandfather.
With many old Campbell hands on his campaign, Peeler had appeared to be the former governor’s heir apparent. But the rejection was not a mystery to some.
“When a mild-mannered milkman transforms himself into a foam-mouthed mad dog,” observed Columbia editor Michael Graham, “it causes folks to ask why.”
For his part, Sanford stayed positive, again relying on a broadcast blitz that projected a thoughtful, likeable image. With all the condemnation raining on the Peeler campaign from high places, it was more than enough, as the ex-congressman swept the state with a 3-to-2 victory on June 25.
Ironically for a state steeped in orthodox conservatism, the GOP nominees for governor, U.S. senator and lieutenant governor had all backed maverick John McCain for president.
Ready For the Firing Squad
If newly minted GOP gubernatorial nominee Sanford expected a kind, gentle general election campaign, he was soon to be disabused. Democratic state party Chair Dick Harpootlian had such a reputation for partisan, back-alley infighting that the Peeler campaign staff routinely referred to him as “Lucifer.” Gov. Hodges’ own political guru, consultant Kevin Geddings, was fond of publishing freewheeling character slams of leading Republicans in various journals across the state.
“After the GOP runoff between ‘Lawsuit Charlie’ Condon and ‘Milk Dud’ Peeler next July (sic),” Geddings wrote in the Palmetto Journal in May 2001, “the GOP nominee will limp into a fall campaign penniless. The day after they are nominated, they can expect a well-documented and withering $6 million television advertising campaign that will highlight their out-of-the-mainstream votes…”
The fact the nominee was Sanford instead seemed to make no difference. Less than 12 hours after the ex-congressman had been declared the primary winner, the Hodges air strikes against him began. Within the next 10 days, five TV ads blasting Sanford’s record in Congress debuted, attacking his votes against bulletproof vests, a Medicare prescription drug plan and domestic violence legislation, while highlighting a bill he had co-sponsored that would have eliminated the U.S. Department of Education.
When Sanford complained about the negative tone of the governor’s sudden offensive, the Hodges camp claimed he had slung the first mud pie with an April spot on values that called for “real, honest leadership” in the governor’s office. The Democrats also cited a Sanford radio spot from early June in which media personality/ex-Marine Cal. Oliver North said, “Under Jim Hodges, state government spends more tax money than the national average, and our educational performance ranks near the bottom.”
Hodges’ plan was to knock Sanford off-stride and slow his momentum coming off his feel-good primary win. Part of it involved challenging him to a series of debates proposed by various organizations. Not to be hurried into something he might later regret, Sanford responded he would debate several times, but would commit to no specifics until he returned from a post-primary vacation.
The GOP nominee then intended to disappear for a few days to parts unknown, but fate intervened.
A Hodges partisan happened to land his plane in Ft. Pierce, Fla., known as a jumping off port for private planes headed for the Bahamas. While waiting in the terminal, he noticed Sanford arriving in a chartered plane bound for the islands and made note of the tail number of the aircraft before it left. The Hodges campaign traced the plane to a road contractor and trumpeted the scoop to the news media.
Democrats chortled that the report convinced Sanford he had a spy in his tightly drawn circle and left him a paranoid mass of nerves for the rest of the campaign. Lerner concurs, to a very limited extent.
“Mark wished the vacation hadn’t become public, but he was complementary of the intelligence capability of the Hodges campaign. I had tried to prepare him for what he was up against, and this episode finally opened his eyes.”
According to campaign polling, Sanford had opened a 10-to-12 point lead in the afterglow of his primary triumph, only to have it erased by the unanswered Democratic media offensive over the next five weeks. That put the candidates in a combative mood by the time they met Aug. 6 to iron out the details of their debate schedule. Twice calling his challenger “arrogant,” Hodges demanded an exhaustive series of nine confrontations, beginning almost immediately. Twice dismissing the incumbent’s ideas as “absurd,” Sanford refused to start until September and insisted on a final debate just two days before the election, something the governor claimed he could not fit into his schedule.
As it turned out, the perplexing pair staged their first debate in a room full of high school students, a taped session that aired statewide on public TV stations just before Labor Day. While sparring calmly over such issues as economic development and education, they became memorably emotional on the subject of the campaign’s advertising. Both had signed a code of campaign conduct, pledging to keep the discourse civil and informative, but each now contended the other had been in violation.
“He said we needed to restore honesty and integrity to the governor’s office,” Hodges complained, again insisting Sanford had started the mudfest with a TV spot aired in April. “My son looked at me and said, ‘Daddy, is he talking about you?”‘
“With all due respect to the governor,” Sanford retorted, “he’s run about $2 million worth of attack ads, not talking about his ideas for tomorrow … but simply trying to tear me down.”
Helping reporters and interested voters sort out the brouhaha over advertising, both The [Columbia] State newspaper and WYFF- TV ran reports on the various attacks made in the candidates’ advertising.
On Aug. 20, Sanford’s advertising had returned to TV screens for the first time since the runoff, with a spot that opened with a headline from the Greenville News: “Hodges Gets Dirty Early.”
“The people of our state deserve better than old-style negative politics,” Sanford voiced over, until the camera settled on him sitting at home. “I trust you’ll see those attacks for what they are. The fact is, in the last four years our economy has gotten worse, and our schools still rank at the bottom. We don’t have to settle for that.” Like most Sanford messages of the general election campaign, it closed with the tag: “Mark Sanford: A Leader, Not a Politician.”
The spot ran in Greenville and Columbia on a $163,000 schedule, and there was plenty more where that came from.
Although his nomination campaign had cost $2.5 million, Sanford still had half a million in the bank five days later–a far cry from the governor’s $4.3 million, but more than Geddings’ prediction of penury. Moreover, the funds had been flowing in ever since, including $618,000 from a July 29 luncheon in Charleston that President Bush had attended. Despite a $3,500 contribution limit, Sanford raked in more than $3 million in the third quarter and out-raised the governor by a 3-to-1 margin ($4.5 million to $1.5 million) after the primary. Not surprisingly, the Republican’s campaign was able to move from the family basement in July into a standard headquarters.
Still, the operation remained tightly controlled and basic. Jenny remained the manager, and Lerner was the only consultant. One small mailing sent out during the runoff would be the only drop of the entire campaign. The ground operation was left entirely to the party organization. This was a highly personal campaign: Just the candidate pressing the flesh on the trail or dropping in on you in your living room, via the tube. It was an effective, if limited, use of considerable resources:
“[Sanford] is one of the better candidates I’ve seen, looking into the camera.” says Hodges Manager Jay Reiff. “He got through his message of change and was persuasive. Most voters thought South Carolina was headed in the wrong direction.”
Sanford’s unscreened policy proposals, however, were a chink in his populist armor.
A survey taken shortly after Labor Day for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain found Palmetto State voters were more in tune with the governor on the details of many important issues. When asked to choose between a set of steps designed to improve public education, 37 percent advocated raising teachers’ pay, 20 percent opted for increased funding of preschool education programs, while only 10 percent tabbed giving parents public funds so their children could attend private schools.
When asked to identify the three most important issues candidates needed to support to get their vote, about half identified lowering property taxes, improving public schools and reducing crime. Other concerns trailed far behind.
Obviously, Hodges’ surveys were showing the same thing. His media campaign zeroed in on Sanford’s exposed flanks, ripping proposals for vouchers and an increased gas tax.
“Mark Sanford is ready to give up on our public schools,” one ad charged, as a column from The State headed “Sanford Might Home-school Kids” filled the screen.
“Sanford supports private school vouchers that take tax dollars out of our public schools, and he worked in Congress to abolish the Department of Education
Another ad featured five people at a gas station discussing Sanford’s tax reform plan. “Mark Sanford says that if he can raise gas taxes by 40 percent,” one explains, “he might be able to get the legislature to cut the state income tax.” Another is skeptical. “We can’t trust the legislature to cut taxes some day.” (Speaking in Charleston on Oct. 10, Sanford himself seemed to encourage that perception: “… Politics is the art of the possible. Would we be able to completely eliminate [the income tax]? I frankly doubt it.”)
More than $550,000 was invested in airing the two messages, but their indictments didn’t seem to stick with the public. “They probably had confidence those proposals would never pass the legislature,” says Geddings. Woodard concurs: “Because governors in most southern states are so weak, people often expect their promises to be negated by the legislature. Issues didn’t matter in this election as much as partisanship and personalities.”
The Hodges crew also appeared to fumble attacks made in the latter part of September. Reiff blasted Sanford’s plan to make most elected cabinet posts appointed as a ploy to take “power away from the people to make himself more powerful,” but the governor endorsed the idea in a televised debate a few days later. When a Hodges ad claimed Sanford had taken taxpayer-funded junkets to “exotic places like Cuba and Holland,” the Republican was able to respond, “While I’m sure it’s a pretty place to visit, the truth is I’ve never been to Holland. What’s more, my trip to Cuba was not paid for with taxpayer money; it was paid for by a human rights organization.”
About the same time the governor’s campaign was linked to an independent expenditure attack ad that had been aimed at Sanford in the primary by a phony organization. “… A sleazy stealth attack by a candidate who isn’t willing to link his name to an ad,” thundered the Spartanburg Herald-journal. “[A] deliberate effort to deceive the voters of South Carolina,” agreed The State.
For two months, the race had seemed frozen with a slight Hodges lead, but as the Democrat’s bad press began to accumulate, modest movement began to drift in Sanford’s direction.
Rebels Without a Cause
Ever since the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) had put eradication of the Confederate flag at the top of their agenda in 1991, the issue of the banner’s display at the state capitol had been emotionally contentious. It flew above the dome from 1962 to 2000, when a compromise moved it to a high-profile Confederate memorial in front of the building. But neither the NAACP nor Confederate heritage supporters were satisfied with the arrangement.
Contrary to pledges Hodges made in the 1998 campaign to stay away from the issue, he actively backed the compromise. But since the NAACP had continued its call for a tourist boycott of the state, moving the flag did not appear to be considered a serious crime by most “Confederistas,” though they continued to complain about it.
“It was a flamboyant issue for the press, so it never completely disappeared,” reports Woodard, “but there was an over whelming attitude in the state that we should move on. When I had taken a poll at the height of the controversy, two-thirds of the voters wanted the issue compromised.”
“I never saw evidence that the flag cut as an issue,” agrees Reiff. “It wasn’t nearly as divisive as it was in Georgia. Sanford sidestepped it.” That is, until the NAACP-sponsored gubernatorial debate Oct. 3. Sanford then broached the subject by declaring that Hodges had lied to flag supporters during the 1998 campaign.
“I didn’t think the flag issue was coming up,” the governor responded, using it as a segue to attack Sanford’s relative lack of accomplishment while in Congress. “I believe the governor’s job is being a doer.”
The heritage issue fizzled, however, when both candidates agreed the flag should not be moved from its new location and that the NAACP boycott was ill-advised. Nevertheless, Geddings, the Hodges consultant, thinks it may have hurt his candidate. He estimates that those deeply offended by attacks on Confederate symbols make up between 10 and 12 percent of the state electorate. For them, he says, “It stirs up strong emotions steeped in history.” But, he adds, Hodges had little choice in his reversal: “How could you get other things done if you kept fixating on the flag?”
The NAACP debate turned even more contentious after a Hodges radio spot was played and Sanford was asked to comment. In what was already widely known as the “Bubba Jeopardy” ad, contestants are asked to pick clues from such categories as “Super Rich, Out of Touch Politicians” and “Hypocrite Politicians.” The clues themselves are laden with hot-buttons of class envy, such as attending private schools in South Florida, working on Wall Street and living on a plantation. All answers are identical, of course: “Who is Mark Sanford?”
Sanford responded by admonishing Hodges’ campaign for using advertising to “create a new Mark Sanford because they don’t like the one they’re running against.” For his part, Hodges insisted the ad was “all true,” which elicited an immediate “that’s absurd” from the challenger.
Sanford began referring to the governor as “Dr. Evil,” in reference to the buffoonish villain of the Austin Powers movie series. His previous objections to slugging back with comparative ads had softened. The result was “Hodges Record,” the first Sanford TV spot of the campaign that criticized Hodges’ service in office:
“Four years of Jim Hodges. School violence up 26 percent. One-third of students do not graduate. Unemployment up 42 percent. Higher taxes on food. South Carolina can do better.”
After quoting an editorial praising Sanford, the spot closes with President Bush declaring: “It’s important for our country, it’s important for this state, that this good man become the next governor of South Carolina.”
“Hodges Record” was Sanford’s most-watched spot, backed by nearly 50 percent more television gross rating points than his second most-seen. “It ran on 80 percent of the points they had up at the time,” reports Reiff. “It was their most effective ad …. Down the stretch, somebody got hold of him.”
The Hodges manager contends the Sanford offensive was coordinated with two independent expenditure ad campaigns that weighed in against Hodges at about the same time with a combined $384,000 buy. “Once he went on the attack, the independent expenditures went hard negative,” says Geddings. The toughest third-party slam came from the state GOP: “This year Gov. Jim Hodges took $300,000 from the fund for emotionally ill children and used it for his own office expenses. It’s true. Hodges took money that was specifically intended for special-needs kids and used it to cover a budget shortfall in his own office….”
The charge was indeed true, but the program in question had run surpluses of more than $600,000 two years in a row and was under the auspices of the governor’s office. Critics pointed out that 84 kids were on the program’s waiting list, however, indicating they should have been served with the extra money.
Two other spots sponsored by the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) also hit Hodges’ budgetary practices. One called him “one of the biggest-spending governors in America” (based on ratings from the libertarian Cato Institute that ranked the incumbent 32nd out of 50 in frugality) and condemned the incumbent for vetoing a bill that would have eliminated the sales tax on food.
“Times are tough,” commiserates the second NTU spot. “In South Carolina, they’re tougher.” A concurrent Sanford ad rebuked the governor for lost jobs. Events would soon underscore those resentments.
Back To Bubba
Slowly losing ground for weeks, Hodges took a heavy blow Oct. 19: Daimler-Benz announced Georgia had prevailed over South Carolina in the well-publicized competition for a planned van plant.
The Hodges administration had offered an incentive package “worth $23 million more than what Georgia offered,” claimed Sanford in a televised debate the next evening, “and they still went to Georgia. That underscores the need for structural change.” The governor responded that the ante had simply been raised to the point of imprudence.
Hodges continually turned the discussion back to what he perceived to be Sanford’s weaknesses.
“This is the guy who couldn’t get a bill passed in six years in Congress,” he said. “This is the guy who wants to cut $150 million from our public schools for vouchers and send it to private schools.”
The duo clashed on Hodges’ longstanding plan–as yet fulfilled–to spend the lottery proceeds on college scholarships like Georgia. “It’s not the government’s role to reward students,” Sanford contended, advocating investment of the funds. “One-third of our students never finish high school.”
Four days later in Columbia, President Bush stepped off Air Force One–followed by Sanford and Graham–and delivered a 20-minute speech to a small tarmac rally. Graham was comfortably ahead, so the event was brief and focused mainly on the gubernatorial race. Bush urged the election of Sanford to change the status quo of partisan bickering in the statehouse and provide an equal education for all students, an oblique defense of the proposed voucher system, which was patterned after a program instituted by the president’s brother in Florida.
Recognizing that momentum was with Sanford for a month and time was running out, Hodges’ handlers decided they needed to fully exploit the opening Sanford had left with his tax and voucher plans and elitist profile. To deliver the punch, they trotted out their not-so-secret weapon.
“Bubba” had been the star of the surprisingly successful Hodges campaign, playing the part of a redneck that ran a convenience store just over the line in Georgia. “Here in Georgia, we just luuuuuhhhhv David Beasley!” he chortled, followed by a goofy, unsettling cackle. The point was not to be missed; thousands of South Carolinians were dropping lottery money in Georgia, money that could be invested in the Palmetto State’s educational needs. Exit pollsters found the ad on the lips of large numbers of voters.
Basking in this success, Bubba held court at the Hodges victory party and was brought back for the successful lottery referendum campaign in 2000. His familiar drawl had hosted the controversial Hodges radio parody of “Jeopardy,” and now his bearded visage was back on the TV screens in Hodges’ last ad, this time relaxing at home (in South Carolina) with his wife under a stuffed deer’s head. As they cluck about the upper–class perspective of Sanford’s ideas while reading the newspaper, Mrs. Bubba sarcastically suggests, “Maybe we should trailer-school our kids.”
“It was an obvious class warfare attack,” Lerner assesses. “If, after four years in office, that was the last thought [Hodges] wanted to leave with the voters, we figured we were in a pretty strong position. Mark delivered his last message speaking straight into the camera about his goals for the future. It was a direct contrast that really crystallized things for the voters.”
Hodges’ populist stratagem looked good on paper, but it fizzled because Sanford’s very informal, personalized campaign had by now convinced voters he was straightforward, unpretentious, thoughtful and down-to-earth. He had stumped everywhere in rumpled khakis and an open-collared oxford, and never seemed to parrot the pat, evasive answers people were used to hearing from politicians. His easygoing presence had dominated virtually all of his TV spots.
“He’s very hard to pin down,” fumes a frustrated Reiff. “People tend not to believe [his unpopular positions]. He comes across as very principled….Certainly a maverick. And he always seemed to have that tanned, attractive J. Crew family in tow.”
Reveille For Reform
The contenders came out swinging in their ninth and final broadcast debate Friday before the election, on a statewide educational network. Surprisingly, the highlight turned on the seemingly bookish issue of campaign finance changes, but the fireworks were still there.
When asked what he would do on the campaign finance front in a second term, Hodges replied he would not support public financing of campaigns because it amounted to “welfare for politicians.”
Sanford tried to focus the question more narrowly. “Would you veto disclosure? You vetoed disclosure,” referring to a 2000 bill the governor had nixed.
“Public finance was in there,” Hodges contended, eliciting an immediate contradiction from Sanford. “It was, Mark, oh you know it was,” the governor insisted, “That’s absurd, and you know it,” the challenger shot back.
Sanford was right. The bill had no public finance elements, but would have required advocacy groups to disclose their campaign activities, while broadening such requirements on parties and candidate committees. “Soft money” donations to the parties would have come under scrutiny for the first time. Republicans had long suggested Hodges was guilty of cronyism in appointments and the rewarding of state contracts, but had never made a compelling case. His reticence toward more disclosure of campaign activities seemed to reinforce the unproven rap.
During the final weekend, Sanford loaded an army of relatives into vans for a “family caravan” through the midlands, stopping at restaurant rallies along the way and tailgating at the South Carolina-Tennessee football game. Hodges tried valiantly to fire up his black base, participating in a series of homecoming events at historically black Benedict College in Columbia, attending services at two black churches, and winding up with a rally of school employees at the executive mansion complex.
Sanford’s small-staffed, media-oriented campaign left GOTV almost entirely to the party, which utilized canvassers, hundreds of whom were reportedly students from fundamentalist Bob Jones University. “Robocalls” from the president repeatedly targeted telephones.
The GOP effort proved the more formidable. “Bottom line,” sniffs Geddings, “it’s easier to turn out affluent whites than poor blacks.”
On Election Day, Sanford’s six-point victory looked similar to Hodges’ eight-point triumph four years earlier until one got to the genteel, traditionalist coast, which had shied from the fundamentalist, flag-deserting Beasley. There, Sanford’s personal popularity helped propel a tidal shift. Hodges had carried the Charleston media market by 20 points in 1998, but lost it to Sanford by eight.
Considering the lucky breaks Hodges’ administration had enjoyed and its modest, but solid accomplishments, the loss has left Palmetto Democrats wondering if they can ever win statewide again. “For a Democrat to win statewide,” says David Woodard, “they have to have a strong geographic advantage or a compelling issue.”
The Democrats had once thought they had the latter.
“I had told the governor, ‘I don’t know how we can lose after getting the lottery up and going,”‘ concedes Geddings. “Kids were going to get scholarships.”
But the plan–which had proved so helpful to Democrats in Georgia and other Southern states – had been hampered in its implementation by the legislature, and Hodges found himself defending his office against a Republican who could appeal to swing voters and unite his party.
Sanford’s independent, reform-minded ways have followed him into the governor’s mansion (which he nearly closed to save money before private funds were raised to help operate it). He wore a blazer to his swearing-in and nixed the traditional inaugural ball for a barbeque in a barn-style restaurant ($50 ahead). He handed out Wal-Mart nameplates to his staff and the cabinet, suggesting they emulate the mass market leviathan’s all-for-the-public spirit.
The South Carolina Toteboard: Horses, Handlers, Wagers and Payoffs
Mark Sanford (R) Jim Hodges (D inc.)
Manager Jenny Sanford Jay Reiff
Media Red Sea LLC Geddings & Phillips
Polling Red Sea LLC Garin Hart Yang
Expenditures $7.6 M $7.1 M
Votes 578,664 (52.9%) 515,856 (47.1%)
Around the South Carolina Track: The Course of media Tracking Polls.
5 Mos. out (1) 4 Wks. out (2) 3 Wks. out Vote (3)
Sanford (R) 42% 43% 45%
Hodges (D) 44 45 41
Undecided 14 12 14
Margin 2D 2D 4R
10 Days Out (4) Vote
Sanford (R) 49% 52.9%
Hodges (D) 42 47.1
Undecided 9 —
Margin 7R 5.8R
(1) Mason Dixon; MOE 4.4%.
(2) Zogby International; MOE 4%.
(3) Mason Dixon; MOE 4%.
(4) Mason Dixon; LVs, MOE 4%
A can-do man on horseback rides to the rescue in a photo finish
If voters valued candor beyond all else, Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman’s re-election slogan should have been “Corrupt But Capable.” After all, most of the electorate seemed convinced he was less than pure, regardless of the truth.
But while Louisiana’s Edwin Edwards succeeded with similar pitches for decades, Alabama is a very different place; there may be no more moralistic state in the union. “The Heart of Dixie” has the nation s second lowest rate of cohabitation behind heavily Mormon Utah. Quick to condemn, most Alabamians assume their politicians are shady and tend to view prosecutions of them as selective and politically motivated. Journalists lead the way to these heights of cynicism.
“Alabama is notorious for its ‘gotcha’ press corps,” says Siegelman general consultant Jim Andrews.
That is not to say they make all this up. There is plenty of evidence that such suspicions are at least partially well-founded.
After a long investigation by Democratic prosecutors for various alleged misdeeds, Republican Gov. Guy Hunt was finally nailed in 1993 on charges of converting inaugural funds for personal use; this elevated Democratic Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom, Jr. Then Folsom was hounded by Republican prosecutors during his 1994 election bid, which he lost. Successor Fob James (R) was considered by many as more crazy than crooked, the result of such antics as imitating an ape at a board of education meeting and championing the doctrine of nullification. But even feckless Fob was accused of such malfeasance as throwing state business to family-owned companies.
Enter Siegelman, a landslide winner over James in 1998, who was subsequently dethroned in 2002 by U.S. Rep. Bob Riley (R) with an imagery-laden, feel-good campaign.
Here is how it unfolded:
Consummate Political Pro
The 56-year-old Siegelman got his start in politics as a young attorney in the early 1970s, the protege of state Democratic Party Chairman Bob Vance, who was a liberal adversary of Gov. George Wallace. He later became a federal judge and died in a 1989 mail-bomb explosion at his home, the victim of a white supremacist.
While serving as executive director of the state party, Siegelman became interested in election overhaul, which led to his winning the post of secretary of state in 1978. After his reelection in 1982, he won the more influential office of attorney general in 1986, then made a bid for governor in 1990. He was defeated in the primary that year by Paul Hubbert, chief of the state teachers’ union, who subsequently lost the general election to Hunt.
Because Lt. Gov. Folsom got Hunt’s job in 1993 Siegelman ran for the vacated lieutenant governor post in 1994 and won, giving him the distinction of having held the three most prestigious statewide elected offices below governor. After a single term presiding over the state Senate, Siegelman reached again for the gubernatorial brass ring in 1998 and won the primary overwhelmingly against weak opposition.
Unpopular with a business community embarrassed by his right-wing grandstanding, Gov. James was forced into a run-off for the GOP nomination, but prevailed after his opponent suffered a backlash from being endorsed by Birmingham’s black Democratic mayor. Siegelman won in November by a 16 points.
Siegelman’s term had been marked with notable success on the job recruitment front, particularly in the auto industry. Honda and Hyundai built new plants in the state, and Mercedes expanded its facilities, all of which doubled employment. He navigated an ambitious new transportation infrastructure program through the legislature, put funding for education on a firmer footing, and replaced thousands of portable classrooms in public schools with permanent structures. Student test scores rose.
The governor suffered a few setbacks, however. Siegelman had campaigned for a state lottery to fund college scholarships in 1998 and ascribed much of the credit for his sweeping victory to the proposal. But when the lottery referendum appeared on the ballot a year later in a low-turnout, odd-year election, it lost by eight points.
“The press went to Georgia and filed stories about how unpopular the lottery there was,” fumes Andrews. “That was ridiculous of course; it was wildly popular. I don’t think [the defeat] was so much a turnout issue as there not being much else on the ballot. The predatory Alabama press zeroed in on it and picked it apart.”
By 2001, the national economic downturn had put the state into a severe budget crunch. (“It hit Alabama early because it’s so poor,” Andrews says.) Siegelman called a special legislative session in November to plug a $200 million deficit hole and proposed raising the funds by applying existing taxes to previously exempt business.
“If Gov. Siegelman hadn’t attacked the business community in that special session, it wouldn’t have turned against him,” says George Burger, a Democratic consultant whose work for the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) eventually led him to Republican Riley’s campaign. “He undid three years of work by calling them tax cheats. They weren’t going to stand still for it.”
Siegelman’s administration also had appeared to be a bit ethically challenged; controversies about unbid state contracts going to Siegelman cronies led state Attorney General Bill Pryor and US. Attorney Leura Canary–both Republicans–to investigate. On the Ides of March, three weeks before the candidate filing deadline, the president of an engineering company (a former BCA chair) was convicted of failing to disclose a conflict of interest in the aborted construction of two warehouses for the state. The unbid project had already spawned guilty pleas from two other businessmen involved.
Pryor described the warehouse deal as “one piece of a much larger state and federal investigation that is ongoing.” Siegelman’s financial records had been subpoenaed, and he had revised his financial disclosure forms to reflect income he previously had failed to report.
In a counterattack March 25, the governor’s attorney held a press conference to demand Canary recuse herself from the case because of her own conflict of interests: her husband, William was a political consultant in the recurring employ of both Pryor and Lt. Gov. Steve Windom (R). Windom was now running for Siegelman’s job and had received a contribution from William Canary. With more than a dash of disingenuousness, the consultant called the move “a cowardly attack on my wife by Gov. Siegelman,” but Leura Canary soon stepped off the investigation. (William Canary later joined the Riley campaign and now serves as BCA president.)
To the voters of Alabama, the whole affair was politics as usual, but they could appreciate another shady deal on a more personal level. Siegelman had sold his home for twice its appraised value to a buyer he later appointed to the Alabama Securities Commission.
Siegelman’s baggage on the ethics front had inspired a primary challenge from state Agricultural Commissioner Charles Bishop, 64, a veteran politician who had wanted to be governor for many years. Polling in the late winter indicated Bishop was not much of a threat, but showed Siegelman in dead heats against the two leading Republican contenders, Windom and Riley.
* Steve Windom was a 52-year-old lawyer from Mobile who had served in the state Senate for nine years before running for lieutenant governor in 1998. In spite of James’ resounding defeat at the top of the ticket, Windom won and became the first Republican lieutenant governor the state had seen since Reconstruction.
That didn’t sit well with the Democratic state Senate, as the LG had considerable power over the way the chamber went about its business. When the Democrats staged a coup and tried to slash Windom’s authority early in his term, he urinated into a water pitcher behind the dais during the exhaustive proceedings to avoid surrendering the chair.
The awkward episode embarrassed some, but made Windom a folk hero to partisan Republicans. He seemed to relish the role and spent much of his term badgering Siegelman, who had backed the coup against him.
* At 58, Bob Riley had served three terms in Congress representing the eastern-central portion of the state. A cattle rancher, car dealer, real estate investor and trucking company owner from Ashland, Riley was wealthy enough to finance a competitive campaign on his own, but he had plenty of groups willing to foot the bill. Most significant of these was the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which kicked in a hefty $360,000 on Dec. 3, enraging the congressman’s primary opponents.
Whatever else had so endeared him to the NRCC, it couldn’t have been his attendance record, which was the fourth–worst compiled in Congress since 1995. Perhaps it was Riley’s warm, folksy manner and Reaganesque presence so evident in his campaign media, which usually portrayed him on horseback.
* A third GOP contender for the governor’s job was Tim James, a 40-year-old Greenville resident who had already owned and operated several enterprises geared toward government, including a waste incinerator, a landfill and a road construction company The novice candidate’s claim to political fame was by blood; he is the son of former Gov. Fob James.
Like his father, James is a former Auburn University football player. He seemed poised to follow his father’s course through the political arena by catering to movement conservatives with such stands as a pledge to oppose any and all tax increases.
Windom started the campaign season as the primary front-runner, polling in the high 30s and leading Riley by about 10 points in midwinter, about four months before the balloting. James showed scant support in the low single digits.
Early campaign forums revealed few philosophical cleavages between the candidates. Only Windom favored calling a convention to rewrite the state’s extremely confining constitution, a move James denounced as a smokescreen to raise taxes. Riley favored amendments to give local government more authority. All three rejected any new or increased taxes to benefit education, and all opposed adding anti- homosexuality to hate crime legislation.
By late March things had heated up. Windom and Riley called each other liars, based on the content of TV ads. Windom aired a spot that accused Riley of making thousands of dollars by investments in companies affected by a congressional committee of which he was a member. Because his investments were through mutual funds Riley countered with an ad that said Windom “has resorted to lying about Bob Riley,” and closed by declaring, “I will always tell you the truth and never embarrass you.”
Windom then made the circuit of media markets with the “Windom Plain Truth Tour,” detailing the documentation behind the conflict-of-interest charge and adding some new ones. Brandishing a transcript from a February candidate forum, he pointed to a quote from Riley that claimed “I was in business for 35 years before I got into politics. I was probably one of the more non-political people you’ve ever known.” Windom then revealed the congressman had been elected to the Ashland City Council in 1972 and had run unsuccessfully for mayor in 1976. Citing newspaper editorials that judged the Windom ad misleading, Riley dismissed the “Plain Truth Tour” as “plain silly.”
James’ campaign kept a low profile, hoarding its limited funds so it could be competitive on the airwaves down the stretch and staying out of the line of fire so that it might pick up the pieces. But in the end– perhaps because he lacked political gravitas–James’ quiet approach simply led to his being overlooked. He spent only SI .25 million, a third of Riley’s total, and almost less than half of Windom’s $3.48 million.
As polling began to indicate Windom had damaged himself with his attacks on Riley, he replaced campaign manager SteveJordan with Ragan Ingram, a former sportswriter. This message began to focus on the perceived ethical lapses of Siegelman and his administration, and proposed reforms he insisted would solve such problems.
The Riley campaign remained upbeat, calling for more flexibility and efficiency in Montgomery, while emphasizing the candidate’s personal qualities. Nearly half the congressman’s spots featured him talking directly into the camera, and he displayed a rare talent for connecting with the viewer.
“We felt character was the key issue,” explains Riley media consultant Kim Alfano. “We wanted to emphasize his ‘Mr. Smith,’ family-man qualities, someone who would make sound moral judgments. And we had to make sure voter concerns about the depth of the man were satisfied.”
Two of Riley’s children–Minda and Rob, both attorneys–played key roles in the campaign. Rob helped raise money and acted as a jack-of-all-trades, filling in where needed and serving as a liaison between the organization’s various components. Minda had already proven to be a skilled writer of political advertising copy.
Alfano typically would establish basic themes and spot ideas, and rough out scripts that Minda Riley would finish and polish. The two young women would both be present on shoots, with each adding nuances. The campaign’s trademark man-on-horseback routine was Minda’s idea. “She loves horses,” Alfano says.
The pair even came up with a 30-minute production, aired on public access stations and cheap cable channels at the low end of the dial. While elaborating on Riley’s administrative “Plan for Change,” the program made a conscious effort to emulate the 1984 “morning again in America” theme of Ronald Reagan.
Altogether, the Riley message was a refreshing blast of fresh air when juxtaposed against what appeared to be Windom’s continued indulgence in the back-biting political wars of Montgomery. For once, the jaded voters of Alabama believed, giving Riley a startling 70 to 18 percent primary victory.
The Gov Gets In Gear
Despite his very limited support in the polls, Charles Bishop proved to be a particularly pesky primary opponent for Siegelman. The agricultural commissioner continually harped on the ethics controversies surrounding the governor, claiming he had to be nominated if the Democratic Party’s reputation was to be restored. “We’re all being tainted with this,” he grumbled.
The conflict reached the boiling point less than three weeks before the primary, when a Bishop TV ad caused the governor’s lawyer to threaten legal action against stations carrying it. Taking the form of a fake TV news broadcast, the spot reported Siegelman was the subject of a federal-state criminal investigation. “Is the governor going to be indicted?” the anchorwoman asked. “Who knows?” shrugged the reporter in the field.
So aggressive was the Bishop campaign, with such remote prospects for success, Siegelman began to charge it was a stalking horse bankrolled by Riley and his ally, the Alabama Farmer’s Federation (“Alfa”). Bishop denied the charge–mostly.
“I’ve had no conversations with Riley,” he told reporters. “Alfa hasn’t given me money for ads. They’ve given me little contributions for some functions …” Whatever the sources, Bishop wound up spending $1.2 million in the primary against Siegelman’s $2.5 million.
The governor also had to contend with a revolt from elements of his party’s black base. A week before the primary, he finally won the endorsement of the state’s most powerful black political organization, the Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC).
But not without some sparks flying.
Siegelman had not bothered to appear before the organization s Interview committee, a prerequisite to endorsement according to ADC rules. Nevertheless, the committee recommended a joint endorsement of Siegelman and Bishop. That didn’t satisfy longtime ADC Chair Joe Reed, who had the rules suspended and rammed through an endorsement of the governor.
The action set off state Rep. Alvin Holmes (D-Birmingham), who – like the rest of the House black caucus – fought Siegelman’s attempts to call a constitutional convention. “I wouldn’t support Don Siegelman if Martin Luther King Jr. came down from heaven and landed on Mount Zion and told me to,” he thundered, before announcing his resignation from the ADC board.
Perhaps to shore up his black support, Siegelman announced the week before that he would push for another referendum to approve a state lottery to fund education, despite its defeat at the polls in 1999. Not that his nomination was ever in doubt: he quickly dispatched Bishop on primary day, 76 to 18 percent.
New Favorite Falters
In the wake of Riley’s massive, feel-good primary win, the Reaganesque congressman became the odds-on favorite for November. Siegelman immediately accepted a string of debate invitations, but Riley let sponsors know he would be taking his time deciding which to accept.
The cattleman’s air of inevitability was reinforced on July 15, when a fund-raiser in Birmingham featuring President Bush hauled in nearly $4 million for his campaign. Or so it was reported at the time and continued to be for months, though eventually the claim would come back to haunt Riley.
“There is no doubt in my mind that [Riley] is going to win!” Bush assured the 2,800 cheering donors, and few of the political cognoscenti in the state were willing to differ.
The high-flying Republican was thrown on the defensive July 25, however, when The Birmingham News reported he had missed 55 percent of the 334 roll call votes in the House since the first of the year, including 40 in a row between Jan. 23 and Feb. 26. The congressman’s attendance record the year before had been an unimpressive 88 percent, down from 95 percent in 2000 and 97 percent in 1999. He had a raft of excuses: Away dedicating parks and post offices, congressional business back home, the death of his father-in-law But a primary reason was not immediately offered, though it gradually became known.
“He had a daughter suffering from cancer, who finally died early in the campaign,” says Alfano. “That made criticisms of his absences sort of a third rail, so they couldn’t use the issue effectively. Bob didn’t like to talk about it, though.”
To address a growing perception that Riley was all style and no substance, the campaign fleshed out his “Plan for Change” with a 90page booklet using that title. Released Aug. 5, the publication became a topic of discussion at a campaign event that evening when Siegelman berated it as revealing little, except the fact the candidate had a horse. The 30- minute program from the primary was recut and broadcast, incorporating much of the information in the book.
The Republican’s campaign regenerated its momentum Aug. 8 with an endorsement from the BCA, its first ever in a gubernatorial race. Although the move was hardly a surprise, given Siegelman’s aggressive push for more taxation of business, the governor seemed stung. The next day he appeared before the state AFL-CIO convention, pacing back and forth at the front of the hall, exhorting his troops like General Patton:
“You’ve got to give us everything you’ve got for these next two months….If we don’t beat these guys this time, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We are going to whip Bob Riley We need to beat them so bad, they don’t come back for another eight years.”
Not surprisingly, he carried their endorsement the next day, then added the State Employees Association two weeks later. The 90,000-member Alabama Education Association–skippered by Paul Hubbert, who had beaten Siegelman for the 1990 gubernatorial nomination–appeared to be holding out, however. “Right now, I don’t see anything in anybody’s plan to get excited about,” insisted Hubbert, but few doubted that the teachers would push for Siegelman eventually, if they were not quietly doing so already.
Meanwhile, another controversy had engulfed the challenger in late August. It was revealed Riley had been repeatedly late paying property taxes in Clay and Tuscaloosa counties, as well as on property he held in Florida. A lien had also been placed against him in 2000, for back state income taxes. Riley offered no compelling excuse, sheepishly contending that running several business while conducting a congressional career left him too busy for such details as getting his taxes in on time. He pointed out there were no outstanding balances. “I’ve never, never had to hire a criminal defense lawyer to defend my personal finances,” he said, an obvious reference to the governor.
Up about 10 points in some July polls, Riley found himself back in a dead heat by Labor Day. Then, two more public relations setbacks hit the challenger in late September.
On Sept. 20, movie star/National Rifle Association (NRA) president Charlton Heston toured the state stumping for Republican candidates, with Riley in tow. At one stop, he paused long enough to sign a letter endorsing Siegelman’s re-election. That led Riley’s press secretary, David Azbell, to publicly state he hoped the governor wasn’t “taking advantage” of Heston. The remark was soon amplified by state GOP Chair Marty Connors, who called the endorsement “a gross manipulation of Mr. Heston …. They brought a pre-written letter and, I believe, coerced him into signing it.”
The implication was clear; Heston was known to be suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and was apparently addled when he signed the endorsement. But an NRA spokesman soon rebuked the Republicans, declaring the aging idol knew what he was doing and “was pleased to meet with the governor and pleased that the governor has a solid record of support for the Second Amendment.” Newspaper editorials also condemned the inference.
Almost immediately thereafter, Riley was hit with yet another controversy. For two months, his campaign Web site had crowed about the S4 million that had been raised for the candidate at the Bush fund-raiser July 15. The event was a topic of discussion at the Aug. 5 debate, when Siegelman challenged his opponent to produce “the names of those people who paid $50,000 to have their picture taken with you.” (The photos were actually taken with President Bush.) Riley said he would and later said he would include them in a report due Sept. 23, which included campaign finance activity for the third quarter. But the names were not included as promised. Siegelman’s campaign instantly seized on the omission, declaring Riley had broken his word. The challenger’s campaign was left to explain that the reception and picture-taking portions of the event were activities of the Republican Governor’s Association (RGA), which received the checks. Neither the Riley campaign nor the RGA could say how the money was shared, and th e RGA did not release the names of individual donors, because it was not legally required to do so.
Armageddon Of the Air
Despite these bumps in the road, the Riley media juggernaut was becoming the driving force of the race, fueled by an avalanche of cash. In the five months between the primary and the general election, Riley raised nearly $10 million, a phenomenal sum for a challenger. Siegelman’s attempt to dock business for the state deficit was reaping huge rewards for his opponent.
Of some 35 TV spots Riley aired, more than 20 were market-specific. The high-tech corridor around Huntsville saw ads emphasizing the need to nurture and recruit cutting-edge industry. The medical mecca of Mobile received a diet of commercials centered on health-care concerns. Each spot ended with the observations of hometown people before the arrival of the candidate’s slogan, “Honest Change.”
Outgunned, Siegelman’s media went on the offensive, hammering Riley’s voting, attendance and tax-paying records. “He doesn’t show up for work, and he doesn’t pay his taxes,” one ad hooted. “Stay tuned for more.” The congressman in fact had actually paid his taxes; he was just habitually late about it.
“The Siegelman ads overstepped in a serious way,” contends Burger. “They should have been a plain recitation. As they amplified, they stretched and allowed us to say what they were saying wasn’t true.”
Not content with that, Riley finally came down off his high horse and started slinging the slop. In an ad patterned after a popular credit card commercial, Siegelman’s house sale, his income from his law firm and an alleged $900 million in no-bid state contracts to his supporters were presented as exhibits in a proven case of venal corruption. The spot closes with blurred footage of the governor dancing (with his wife, it turned out), as the voiceover concluded, “Shameless.”
“The Riley advertising overplayed the nobid contracts,” says Larry Powell, a communications professor at the University of Alabama – Birmingham who conducts media polls and has worked for both Republican and Democratic candidates. “It allowed Siegelman to attack Riley for lying. He had overstated.”
So while both campaigns were making heavy-handed criticisms of the opponent that had some basis in fact, they played so loosely with the facts that the other side had grounds to say they were lying. The resulting “did not, did too” playground spat was childish to many voters and editorialists. “If you’re not sick of the televised campaign commercials for the general election Nov. 5,” gagged the Montgomery Advertiser Oct. 20, “you’re either a masochist or you never watch TV”
That evening, the candidates met for a debate carried by Alabama Public Television. Not much new ground was broken, though the pair offered a contrast on solving the budget crisis. Siegelman’s solutions were the lottery and ending tax loopholes, as he pledged not to raise taxes on working families. Riley vaguely talked of studies to find waste to cut.
“Raising taxes is necessary from time to time, but it should never be the first option,” he advised the governor, “and with you, it always is.”
“You can’t just wish that there were new textbooks or computers or money to pay teachers better,” Siegelman shot back. “We don’t need any more studies.”
Asked why both candidates were running attack spots, Riley conceded “Everyone is sick of negative ads …. It’s something I wish we didn’t have to do.”
Four days later, as he addressed a crowd of 15,000 in a packed baseball stadium at Auburn University, President Bush sensed the public mood: “You want a governor who’s going to elevate the discourse, who won’t play the same old, tired politics of name calling and slashing and burning.”
“People know that a governor has little to do with national issues,” says Siegelman consultant Jim Andrews, “but Bush was still able to help Bob Riley. Hearing him say Riley was an honest guy was reassuring to the voters.”
As Riley slowly opened up a lead in the closing weeks, Siegelman began to sense his only possible salvation would be a high black turnout. Such a prospect did not look propitious, though it had occurred in 1998.
The traditional black political organizations that had worked for him that year had since suffered a demonstrated loss of influence, and he was no longer running against Fob James. The lottery issue also had lost its punch as a motivator, because many had given it up for dead after the referendum loss. Moreover, Riley had gone to considerable lengths to crack the black vote, hiring D.C. consultant Raynard Jackson and earning the active backing of state Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham).
But while Riley went into safe mode, trying to avoid blowing his lead, Siegelman rolled out his “Souls to the Polls” campaign, pouring resources into black turnout through shoe leather, direct mail, phones, the Internet and wall-to-wall black radio.
“I was a guest on a black radio station’s public affairs program a couple of days before the election,” Larry Powell reports. “First, the host emphasized the need for his audience to turn out and vote. Then, at the first break, was a message from Siegelman explaining why all blacks needed to turn out. Second break, a black city councilman; third break, a black county commissioner-all saying the same.”
The astonishing result was a near dead heat on Election Day, with Siegelman initially appearing to be a victor by 3,217 votes, then eventually being declared a loser by 3,117.
The difference was an adjustment made in the reported totals for Baldwin County, a strongly Republican coastal enclave across the bay from Mobile. The first report from the county’s optical scanner machines gave Siegelman 19,070 votes; a rerun had knocked him down to 12,736. Riley’s tally had remained 31,052.
The shift stumped the nation’s experts on computerized voting, as scanner machines usually were reliable. “With something that big, there is something going on outside the machine’s operation,” MIT’s Steven Ansolabehere told the Associated Press. A Republican probate judge overseeing the Baldwin count said “a programming glitch” in software had resulted in the initial, higher tally for Siegelman.
The official count showed the governor down by only 0.23 percent, but unlike most states, Alabama does not have a law that triggers an automatic recount in extremely close races. Instead, any voter can precipitate a recount in their own county by officially requesting one and putting up a bond to cover the expense. If the result of the election is reversed, the state picks up the tab. Otherwise, it pockets the bond.
Siegelman supporters filed requests in all 67 counties, which prompted the Riley campaign to file opposition papers in each county, and Republican state Attorney General Bill Pryor (remember him?) issued an opinion that it would be a crime to unseal ballots solely on the basis of a recount request.
Although the Pryor’s opinion had no force of law, it caused most local judges to halt the recount process.
A Mobile Register/University of South Alabama poll conducted six to 10 days after the election showed 57 percent of adult Alabamians favored a recount, while a strong majority thought Riley had won. By a 53 to 34 percent count, they disapproved of Siegelman’s handling of the standoff
Siegelman readily understood how much the electorate hates whining sore losers, and he could count votes on the state Supreme Court, which was to begin hearing the recount case Nov. 21. Eight of the nine members were Republicans.
The governor threw in the towel on Nov. 18. And Bob Riley would become Alabama’s Republican governor.
The Alabama Toteboard: Horses, Handlers, Wagers and Payoffs
Bob Riley (R) Don Siegelman (D inc.)
Manager Rob Riley/J. Sam Daniels Steve Martin
Gen. Cnsltg. George Burger Jim Andrews
Media Alfano Comm./Minda Riley Shorr Johnson Klose
Polling Marketing Reserch Institute/ Hickman Brown
Direct Mail Creative Direct Message & Media
Expenditures $13,647,976 $11,506,108
Votes 672,225 (49.2%) 669,105 (48.9%)
Around the Alabama Track: The Course of Media Tracking Polls
9 Mos. out(1) 11 Wks. out(2) 2 Wks. out Vote
Riley (R) 37% 43% 44%
Siegelman (D) 38 43 40
Other/Undecided 24 13 16 14
Margin 1D = 4R
(3)1 Wk Out(4) Vote
Riley (R) 47% 49.2%
Siegleman (D) 39 48.9
Other/Undecided 24 1.9
Margin 8R 0.3R
(1) Larry Powell for the Birmingham News, Huntsville Times, and WHNT-TV
Huntsville; RVs, MOE 4.3%.
(2) Ayres, McHenry & Assoc. for the Alabama Business Council; RVs, MOE
(3) USA Polling Group for the Birmingham News, Mobile Register and The
Huntsville Times; LVs, MOE 3.2%
(4) Larry Powell for the Birmingham News, Huntsville Times, and WHNT-TV
Huntsville; RVs, MOE 4%.
David Beiler is a freelance writer, political analyst and senior contributing editor of Campaigns & Elections. He formerly served as an elected county official in Virginia.
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