Local election possible path to future Democrat success
by Patrick
Nov 17, 2012 | 3703 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sheila Gilbert, chairwoman of the Calhoun County Democratic Party, speaks to the crowd at the opening of the party’s new Anniston headquarters in September. (Anniston Star file photo by Bill Wilson)
Sheila Gilbert, chairwoman of the Calhoun County Democratic Party, speaks to the crowd at the opening of the party’s new Anniston headquarters in September. (Anniston Star file photo by Bill Wilson)
State Democrats are still losing power, but one recent local race showed the party can still be competitive if it can find the right candidates.

Democrats have not controlled the Legislature for the last two years and lost seats but kept control of offices at the county level during this month’s general election. Despite this supposed weakening of the party, Missy Hall, who had never run for election before, was a little more than 100 votes away from winning the Calhoun County circuit clerk seat from long-time politician Eli Henderson, who ran as a Republican.

The race was close enough that election officials this week will conduct a recount of the ballots in the race.

Some political experts say Democrats will need more youthful and energetic candidates like Hall if they want to regain power in coming elections. However, experts also say that such energetic young candidates aren’t often looking into the Democratic party right now.

Sheila Gilbert, chairwoman of the Calhoun County Democratic Party, said Hall, a 39-year-old legal assistant from Oxford, ran a strong campaign that nearly clinched her the circuit clerk’s seat.

“She worked harder than any candidate I’ve ever seen,” Gilbert said. “I was surprised she didn’t win.”

Gilbert said she would welcome having Hall as a candidate in future elections.

“She has that drive and determination and she’s smart,” Gilbert said.

Hall said shortly after the election that her success during the race showed the Democratic Party was not dead and that she was open to run for office again.

“I’d be glad to run again for something else,” Hall said.

Gilbert said the county party does not actively seek out new candidates. However, moving forward, the county party needs more candidates like Hall to win back seats, she said.

“We need people who are smart, driven with keen political interest … and someone who is not stagnant,” Gilbert said. “We want candidates who want to move forward.”

Currently, the only Democrats holding county office are Sheriff Larry Amerson and county commissioner Rudy Abbott.

Bradley Davidson, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, agreed that his party would like more candidates like Hall.

“We need candidates who are willing to work … who are well-known in the community like Hall was because of her work in the court system,” Davidson said. “People there knew she knew what she was doing.”

While Democrats still control county offices, they lost ground in the Nov. 6 election, with Republicans gaining 45 seats. Still, Davidson is encouraged about his party and that it will see more success in 2014 when many Legislative seats will be up for election.

“In Jefferson County, we wiped Republicans out there,” Davidson said. “We feel pretty good about what we’re doing and continue to do and people like Missy Hall will push us over the edge.”

However, to William Stewart, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama, Democrats still have an uphill battle due to a lack of younger, energetic candidates like Hall.

“I don’t see young, ambitious men and women who might want a career in politics who want to be Democrats,” Stewart said. “You’ve got to have electable candidates.”

In Calhoun County, the Democrats had few candidates running for office at all; let alone strong candidates who could win elections. Not counting the county school board, there were 14 seats on the ballot that had Republicans running unopposed.

T.J. Maloney, executive director of the Alabama Republican Party, said he did not see that the Democrats maintaining control of county offices was a sign the party was gaining strength.

“Missy did well in Calhoun County, but in the end, it was ’nuff said,” Maloney said, referring to Henderson’s campaign slogan. “We will continue to focus on targeted local elections where we can grow our party.”

Star Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Sta
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