Voting 8-15-17

A slow stream of voters come and go out of the Saks High School gym during the special election for the US Senate seat in Alabama. (Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star)

Candidates for Alabama’s midterm elections have less than 24 hours to qualify for a run, and so far the top jobs in state government seem to have generated more interest than county-level positions.

Nine people — four Democrats and five Republicans — are in the race for governor, and Congressional races are still filling up with candidates.

But two members of the county’s delegation to the state House of Representatives, two county commission candidates, the sheriff, probate judge and coroner remain unopposed so far.

The top-heavy ticket doesn’t surprise Lori Owens, a professor of political science at Jacksonville State University.

“If you have an office at the local level, you have no buffer,” she said. “You see your constituents at church and the grocery store, and everybody wants something.”

Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, had no opponent yet Thursday in the race for her district, which covers parts of northern Calhoun County. On the other end of the county, Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, was so far uncontested in the race for House District 35. There was no challenger yet for Anniston’s Cynthia McCarty, who holds Place 6 on the Alabama Board of Education.

County-level leaders in both parties say they expect more candidates to come forward before the close of qualifying at 5 p.m. Friday. Still, local GOP chairman James Bennett said he knows of no local Republican candidates who have emerged in the last week, and Democratic chairwoman Sheila Gilbert said she’s aware of only a few more potential candidates in her party.

Democrats started the year expecting a surge, a hope that was inspired largely last year’s U.S. Senate election, which put a Democrat into one of Alabama’s Senate seats for the first time in 25 years. Democrat Doug Jones faced a damaged candidate — sexual misconduct allegations dogged Republican Roy Moore in the last month of the race — but a surge of volunteers and newly activated voters may also have contributed to the Democrats’ win.

Democrats hope to turn last year’s activists into this year’s candidates, but as of Thursday the party had fielded candidates for slightly more than half of the seats in the state Legislature.

Locally, though, a few new Democrats have emerged. Pam Howard, a businesswoman from Jacksonville, qualified this week to run against Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, according to Gilbert. Nicki Arnold Swindle of Anniston qualified to run against Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks, Gilbert said. Neither candidate was yet counted on the statewide Democratic party’s list of candidates by Thursday afternoon.

Attempts to reach Swindle, Brown and Howard were unsuccessful Thursday.

Wood, the Republican incumbent in Saks, said he wasn’t worried about the idea of Democratic momentum in the wake of the Jones victory.

“That was just a fluke thing that happened,” he said of last year’s election.

While the Jones race may have energized Democrats, Owens said, would-be candidates in both parties may be reluctant to go into politics this year because growing partisanship has made the job less appealing.

“Just look at the exodus of people from Congress, from people who said they don’t want to run again,” she said. 

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.