Alabama chief justice race soon to see some advertising
by Tim Lockette
Oct 03, 2012 | 4140 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — The Nov. 6 election is a little more than a month away, but the race for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is really just beginning.

After a quiet summer, Democratic candidate Robert Vance Jr. says he’ll run his first campaign ads in the next few days.

“Generally speaking, they’re an effort to introduce me to the voters,” said Vance, a Jefferson County circuit judge.

Vance is a late entry into an unusual race for the highest position in Alabama’s judicial system. Former chief justice Roy Moore, best known for being kicked off the court for refusing a court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument in 2003, won the Republican primary in March. Harry Lyon — a Pelham attorney with a history of controversial comments and past conviction on a menacing charge — ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination.

Few Democrats expressed support for Lyon.

For months afterward, the campaign trail was quiet.

Vance stepped into the nomination after Democrats disqualified Lyon in August. Since then, campaign finance records show, he’s raised $433,910 in campaign donations — $268,499 of that in September alone. That’s more than twice the $192,895 in Moore’s war chest.

So far, both campaigns have reported little spending on advertising. But that’s about to change.

“We’ll have TV ads in the next few weeks,” said Rich Hobson, a spokesman for the Moore campaign. Hobson said Moore has spent the past months traveling the state speaking at small events. He drew a crowd of about 150 to a visit Sunday night at a church in the Angel community, west of Jacksonville.

The recent influx of campaign money may bring some fight to a race that seemed, for months, to be over.

“Vance definitely needs the money more than Moore,” said David Lanoue, who teaches political science at Columbus State University in Georgia.

There are few people in Alabama who don’t recognize Moore, Lanoue said, and the former chief justice has a dedicated following among social conservatives.

Vance, by comparison, is a relative unknown — though he shares a name with his father, the late federal judge Robert Vance Sr., who was killed by a mail bomber in 1989. Lanoue said Vance likely appeals to donors who would prefer a non-controversial figure to someone whose last term on the court made news nationwide.

“Moore left a lot of people with a bad taste in their mouth,” he said. “For a lot of them, there was a sense that he had embarrassed the state, and that he had created a spectacle.”

Vance’s donors include a number of law firms and Birmingham-based lawyers, the AFL-CIO and several businesses — including more than $20,000 in donations from companies connected to Mobile businessman Elliot Maisel.

Moore’s biggest backers include former third-party presidential candidate Michael Peroutka and Birmingham steel plant CEO Pete Hanna.

Hobson, Moore’s spokesman, said he wasn’t worried about Vance’s fundraising lead.

“Please emphasize the fact that we don’t take money from special interests,” he told a reporter.

No matter what sort of campaign emerges in the next month, there’s no chance it will rival past races in the volume of money raised and spent.

Counting the primaries, the race has generated about $2.5 million in campaign funds, said Charles Hall, of Justice at Stake, a Washington-based group that monitors judicial election fundraising. That pales in comparison to the 2006 Supreme Court election, a multi-judge race that cost $13 million — the most expensive judicial contest in history.

Vance and Hobson both said they felt the era of expensive races was over, due to the shrunken economy and public displeasure with the state of campaign finance.

“It’s the economy, and the great American way,” Hobson said.

But Hall believes there’s something else in play. Past races, he said, were major contests of influence between plaintiff’s lawyers and business interests — with lawyers generally supporting Democrats and business leaning Republican.

The business side has largely won, Hall said.

“If one side keeps whipping the other side, the other side backs off and spends its money elsewhere,” he said.

Hall said Moore also throws the lawyer-business paradigm out of whack. Despite his appeal to social conservatives, Hall said, he hasn’t appealed to business interests the way other Republicans have.

“Roy Moore was never any good at raising money,” said William Stewart, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama. He said Moore has often displayed a pro-plaintiff streak.

“Big business isn’t fond of him,” Stewart said. “If they were, they would have fought to keep him from being removed from the court.”

State Capitol & Statewide Correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.
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