Does Alabama Want Moore?

Roy Moore, a controversial conservative, is running for governor again, as the Birmingham News reports: MONTGOMERY -- Almost three years to the day after he ...
by | June 2, 2009

Chief_Justice_Moore Roy Moore, a controversial conservative, is running for governor again, as the Birmingham News reports:

MONTGOMERY -- Almost three years to the day after he was badly beaten in his bid to win the Republican Party nomination for governor, Roy Moore will try a second time.

...

Moore pledged that, if elected, he would join with other states in pushing states' rights against what he called "ever-growing federal intrusion" into the ordinary lives of people and the operation of state government. Moore also pledged that, if elected, he would appoint a special commission to study the condition of education in the state.

Moore said it is unacceptable in a state where 80 percent of tax dollars go to schools that parents and students should have to buy supplies, or that some schools would graduate students who don't know math or reading well enough to succeed.

Does Moore, who became famous for his defense of a Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama Supreme Court, actually have a chance to win?

Sure, he was a chance, but his chances would be quite a bit better if Alabama's election rules were different.

Moore almost certainly isn't the most electable Republican candidate. Any Republican nominee in Alabama, however, would have at least a reasonable chance to win. That includes Moore.

The biggest question is whether Moore can win the primary. Even among Alabama Republicans, the former judge is a divisive figure.

When Moore ran for governor against Republican incumbent Bob Riley in 2006, he took 35% of the vote. While there was some reason for Republicans to be dissatisfied with Riley -- he had proposed a major tax increase in 2003 -- for the most part he had built a record that conservatives could like. Most of the folks voting for Moore probably were people who really liked Roy Moore.

Let's say, then, that 35% of the Republican electorate still really likes Roy Moore. The Alabama Republican primary is going to be crowded. Bradley Byrne, a former college official, may be the frontrunner, but the field also includes a statewide elected official (Treasurer Kay Ivey) and the son of a former governor (Tim James). If Moore wins 35%, he probably finishes first.

The problem for Moore is that placing first doesn't win him the nomination. Alabama, like many Southern states, holds primary runoffs if no candidate surpasses 50% of the vote.

Those rules are a relic from the days when Alabama was a one-party Democratic state. It seemed awfully hasty to effectively elect a candidate who had received, say, 30% of the vote in a primary. Runoffs made it more likely that  primary winners had broad support.

And, primary runoffs still have the same effect today, which is why Moore seems fairly likely to advance to a primary runoff, but also fairly unlikely to win the nomination. There's a good reason he was talking about education in his kickoff speech. If he's going to win the Republican nomination, he'll need to win over more Republicans than the relatively limited pool of social conservatives who have supported him in the past.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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