Speaking to more than 100 fellow Democrats at a local party fundraiser at the Oxford Hilton Garden Inn, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance said his Republican opponent, former Chief Justice Roy Moore, was using social issues to divide Alabamians.
“He strives to demonize groups of Alabamians, to pit one group against another,” Vance told the crowd.
Vance stepped in to the chief justice race two months ago after Democrats rejected their original nominee, lawyer Harry Lyon. Lyon had a history of controversial statements and run-ins with the law, but he ran unopposed for the party’s nomination this spring.
Before Lyon was booted out by Democratic Party leaders, Alabamians faced a general election choice between Lyon and Moore, the conservative judge best known for his decision to place a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Supreme Court. Moore’s refusal to remove the monument, despite a higher court order, led to his own removal from office in 2003.
Vance told the crowd Thursday that he entered the race because he was disappointed with the available choices.
“I saw a campaign going on that was beneath the office of chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court,” Vance said.
Vance claimed his polling numbers showed him more than 3 percentage points ahead of Moore. The Democratic candidate clearly led Moore in fundraising. Campaign finance records show that Vance has spent more than $700,000 on the race in the last month, much of that money raised from a broad coalition of law firms, businesses and labor unions.
Moore has spent only about $250,000 over the same period. Much of his campaign money has been raised through small donations by supporters from across the country.
Moore enjoys huge name recognition among social conservatives as the “Ten Commandments judge,” but in the Republican primaries, and a 2010 gubernatorial bid, he ran a low-key campaign based on high-profile endorsements and biographical ads. But in October, Moore turned up the heat, declaring at rallies in Montgomery and elsewhere that gay marriage was a threat to the nation.
Vance said Thursday that Alabamians were tired of Moore’s brand of politics. He said the chief justice must serve the entire state.
“It makes no difference to me what your gender is,” he said. “It makes no difference, the color of your skin, or your national origin. I don’t care about your sexual orientation.”
Vance, without direct reference to the Ten Commandments incident, also said his opponent has shown he doesn’t respect the rule of law.
“He will put himself above the law, and he is willing to ignore the law for his own personal benefit,” he said.
Moore spokesman Rich Hobson, contacted after Vance’s remarks late Thursday night, said Vance was the first person to bring the notion of divisiveness into the campaign. He also said Moore does indeed live by the rule of law.
“Judge Roy Moore is a man who understands the rule of law and he operates under the rule of law,” Hobson said.
Vance was the final speaker in a long list of Democrats speaking at the $40-per-plate fundraiser, which raised money for the Calhoun and Cleburne County branches of the Democratic Party. Other speakers included Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson; Alabama AFL-CIO president Al Henley; and Lilly Ledbetter, the Jacksonville woman whose failed suit against Goodyear led to a federal law making it easier for women to sue for gender equity in pay. Fred Wilson, recently appointed to the Calhoun County Commission, was recognized at the event but didn’t make remarks.
In remarks before the event, Ledbetter said she’d been stumping for President Barack Obama in Ohio in recent weeks. At the dinner, she told the crowd that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s debate comments about seeking “binders full of women” for high level jobs had earned her a number of invitations to appear on TV — including a planned Oct. 31 appearance on Stephen Colbert’s program.
She also urged Democrats to vote, drawing on the story of the 5-4 Supreme Court decision on her case against Goodyear.
“One vote can make a difference,” she said. “When I got to the Supreme Court, one vote changed my life.”
Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.