While statewide, Bradley Byrne received the most votes for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, he came in fourth in the county behind frontrunner Dr. Robert Bentley, Tim James and Roy Moore.
All over the state, voter turnout was low. Even with the gubernatorial nominations up for grabs in both parties, here in Calhoun County, voters were not particularly inclined to weigh in on the choice -– only about 19 percent of regis-tered voters cast their ballots in the primary election Tuesday.
That is well under the last gubernatorial primary in 2006, which drew 38.4 percent of registered voters to the polls statewide but close to the U.S. Senate primary in 2008 in which 15.1 percent of registered Alabama voters participated.
The low voter turnout certainly affected Calhoun County’s results, said Professor Lawson Veasey, chair of the Department of Political Science at Jacksonville State University.
“Interestingly enough today, I think low turnout works probably in the favor in the primary to the more aggressive candidates, probably the more conservative candidates,” he said. “If you have a low voter turnout, that means the moderates and the liberals will probably not do as well.”
When you have low voter turnout, Veasey said, it’s probably the younger voters who are forgoing the election. The older voters are much more disciplined about exercising their right to vote, and they tend to be more conservative, he said.A good example of that gap was seen in the Democratic primary.
“The most liberal candidate in the governor’s race, at least in my opinion, was Artur Davis, and some of the polls suggested that he was ahead prior to the election and then he lost substantially to the more conservative candidate,” Veasey said.
Davis lost statewide getting just 38 percent of the vote. In Calhoun County, Davis did slightly better garnering 48 percent of the Democratic vote.
Calhoun County has always been a conservative county and has become even more so in the past few years, Veasey said.
Calhoun County numbers are showing a trend away from the Democratic Party. In 2006, Calhoun County Democrats cast 9,361 ballots to the 11,053 ballots cast by Republican voters. In 2008, county Democrats cast just 1,178 ballots while 5,150 county republicans voted. This primary in Calhoun County showed a similar gap with Republicans casting more than 72 percent, or 9,209, of the 12,680 ballots. That is more pronounced than statewide numbers, which are nearly half-and-half Democrat and Republican, but are also starting to show a shift toward Republican.
“We’ve done a 180-degree shift from the Democratic party to the Republican party dominating particularly state and local politics,” Veasey said.
However, that’s not so much a shift in ideology as a realignment of party, he said.
“The people didn’t change, they just changed party affiliation,” Veasey said. “Calhoun County was always conservative, but now its conservative dominance is more with the Republican party.”
The change may also have a lot to do dominant religious values of the area, which align with the conservative Christian tradition in the GOP, Veasey said.
The economy also played a role in the election results. Many of the local voters quizzed at the polls were voting for people they hoped would pull the state out of the recession.
“We need changes, people who are really going to work to boost our economy,” said Marcia Ghee. “We’re not doing too well around here. We need jobs.”
Veasey points out Bentley, who drew 28 percent of Calhoun County Republican votes, seemed like a candidate willing to do the hard work for the economy.
“Dr. Bentley who looks like he might be in the run-off for governor, he told the public that he wouldn’t accept a salary, that he self-funded his own campaign and he’s very conservative,” Veasey said. “So, out of nowhere he has a really good chance of being in the run-off for governor.”
The economy also made voters ready for change.
Kelvin Sterling wanted to see some new ideas come out of the Alabama Legislature.
“We need better leadership,” he said.
The low voter turnout, the increasingly conservative nature of the county voters, the recession and the desire for change created a sort of perfect storm environment that liberal candidates couldn’t survive, at least in Calhoun County, Veasey said.
“Very, very difficult to defeat a conservative in this environment,” he said.
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.