After a count this week of provisional ballots, the margin between the GOP’s three leading gubernatorial candidates remains paper-thin, with James trailing second-place finisher Robert Bentley by 167 votes. That slim difference highlights the need to make sure the June 1 primary results are correct.
Nevertheless, we expect it unlikely that the expensive recount in 40 counties — with James’ political donors footing the bill — will change the lineup for the July 13 runoff between Bradley Byrne and Bentley.
What’s more, we expect the brief runoff campaign for the Republican nomination to produce a robust debate of issues critical to Alabama’s future. That rarely happened in the primary campaign when James caused too many voters to concentrate on ill-timed, red-meat topics that created buzz but didn’t relate to the state’s pressing needs.
To its credit, James’ campaign strategy accomplished a key goal — it moved the Greenville developer and son of former Gov. Fob James up in the polls before Election Day. It changed him from a down-ballot candidate into a headline-maker.
Do not discount James’ controversial television ad touting English-only drivers’ license tests that became an overnight Internet sensation. That one ad brought James more attention than did the year of campaigning he did before the ad first appeared.
Problem is, most Alabamians weren’t concerned with drivers’ license tests.
They wanted details about how candidates would foster job creation for a state with high unemployment, how they’d reform political ethics in Montgomery, how they’d handle state budgets during depressing economic times.
Too often, those topics were shrouded — or ignored — by irrelevant discussions that wasted our time. They were needless. The James campaign was the unabashed leader in that forgettable trend, and other candidates, particularly Byrne, sometimes descended down that same path. It was regrettable.
Nevertheless, let’s have strong expectations for a more substantive runoff campaign between Byrne and Bentley. They are different candidates with diverse backgrounds. Byrne, from Baldwin County, will always be linked to the repair of the two-year college system. Bentley, a Tuscaloosa doctor, is a legislator with staunch conservative beliefs who may appeal to GOP voters on the far right.
Republican voters should demand that these candidates concentrate on Alabama’s real issues. They should require Byrne and Bentley to focus on the best way to repair the state’s ailments and move it forward instead of delivering additional political drivel.
The GOP runoff to decide which candidate will face Democrat Ron Sparks in November is critical for Alabama’s future. That’s obvious. This time, let’s hope these candidates will debate worthwhile topics instead of beat us down with more of the same.