Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
Robert Bentley won the Republican nomination for governor in Alabama yesterday after being backed by key officials in the Alabama Education Association, who also happen to be top officials in the state Democratic Party. That raises a question: Did Democratic voters play a decisive role in picking the Republican nominee? So far as I can tell, the answer is no.
To try to get at this question, I took a look at the results in some of the places in Alabama that have a lot of Democrats. Specifically, there are five and only five counties that Barack Obama carried in Alabama that are outside of the state's 7th congressional district. I didn't want to look in the 7th because it featured a lively Democratic runoff for Congress -- presumably most Democrats were sticking on the Democratic side there.
These five counties include Montgomery County (where, appropriately, Montgomery is located) and much smaller jurisdictions in the black belt. Here's a chart of their Republican primary turnout and support for Bentley:
While statewide turnout was down from the primary to the runoff (no surprise since two candidates with lots of supporters, Tim James and Roy Moore, had been eliminated from the field), turnout was up in four of these five counties. That suggests to me that some people who voted in the Democratic primary in June voted yesterday in the Republican runoff.
However, that didn't benefit Robert Bentley. Both in the primary and the runoff, he did worse in every one of these counties than he did statewide. His improvement in these places from the primary to the runoff was roughly the same as it was statewide (31 percentage points), so there's no clear sign that Democrats flocked to his cause once they switched over to vote in the Republican runoff.
Of course, none of that means the AEA failed to influence the election. The teachers' union's heavy spending could easily have influenced Republicans and independents. It's also entirely possible that these five counties, for one reason or another, don't reflect the behavior of Democrats statewide.
Still, given the size of Bentley's victory (more than 55,000 votes) and the lack of evidence that Democrats backed Bentley in counties where I would have expected to see it, I think it's safe to say that Bentley would have won the Republican runoff even if Democrats had been excluded from voting.
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