Democrats, looking for anything that resembled a silver lining in the dark cloud hanging over them, were heartened by the stronger-than-expected showing when their losing candidate challenged the odds-on-favorite in the race for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. So they have launched a website/email/social-media program called “Grass Roots Alabama,” which they hope will attract small donors to the party, build up their base and give them a shot at breaking the Republican supermajority in the state Legislature.
There is much to be said for this approach. If it works, it will make the Democrats less reliant on big institutional donors like the Alabama Educational Association.
However, groups like the AEA provide more than money — they provide campaign workers and votes, so Democrats must be cautious and not alienate voters with this new strategy. For the moment, at least, that is unlikely, since House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, made it clear that the new program will focus on how Republicans “have been punitive to public education and state employees, and the middle class and working class of Alabama.”
Republicans, for their part, do not seem worried. Their goal is to retain the supermajority in the Legislature. After the way their legislators redrew new legislative districts, it appears they will go into the next election with the odds in their favor.
Still, by targeting specific districts where they did well in the last election, and recruiting strong candidates to run against Republicans who are considered weak and vulnerable, Ford believes Democrats will pick up at least 14 seats, mostly from north Alabama.
Of course, the election is still a year away, but this activity suggests that the campaigns — at least some of them — will be protracted and, in all likelihood, negative and bitter.
One can only hope that in all the rhetoric that is certain to accompany the contests, the candidates will address issues that need addressing, such as education, crumbling infrastructure and tax reform.
A heated campaign between two political parties can be a good thing. It can clearly define the parties and their programs. It can give voters an understanding of what the parties intend to do if they win.
It can also degenerate into demagoguery, leaving voters with nothing but riled-up emotions on which to cast their ballots.
The parties have a year to decide which strategy they will pursue.