Political analyst Jess Brown discusses primary election fallout

(WHNT) – The Alabama primary elections are in the books.

Athens State professor and WHNT News 19’s political analyst Jess Brown has had a few days to think about what happened and what it means. He’s joining us for this week’s Leadership Perspectives interview.

The question on many people’s minds–will the governor’s race between Republican Robert Bentley and Democrat Parker Griffith be competitive?

“Oh yeah, it can be a fight, there can be a fight. It’s just that Parker Griffith has an uphill fight. He needs to acquire about 75 to 80 percent of the independent voters, and he can make a fight out of it. He can squeak out a victory, but when you’ve got such a high threshold, when it’s 75-to-80 percent, you have to take a chance with issues, you’ve got to push the envelope, and sometimes when you push the envelope it backfires, but you’ve got to take risks. But I think Parker Griffith is the type of politician, he’ll take the risks,” Brown said.

One of Governor Bentley’s greatest assets is his millions of dollars in his campaign chest. Parker Griffith is considered to be still struggling to find the kind of backing he’ll need. So, the question is, will Griffith be able to raise enough funds to give Governor Bentley a run for his money?

“Not easily, there are going to be a lot of major interest groups in the state that are not going to want to write checks against a sitting governor. They think he’ll have the upper hand in the election. There may be some trial lawyer money, maybe some gambling interests in the state, maybe Dr. Griffith’s personal wealth. He doesn’t have to spend the most money, but he has to have an adequate amount,” Brown said, adding, “He needs enough money for a heavy television buy at least the last three weeks of the campaign.”

Brown said the national Democratic Party may not be able to help Griffith out, saying, “The national money in this election cycle is certainly not going to focus on governors’ races. They’re going to put their dollars into…in fact the national Democrats are going to put their money into trying to keep control of the US Senate.”

One concern for any Democratic candidate in an Alabama primary election is crossover voting—Democrats getting a Republican ballot in order to influence a Republican primary. Some believe that it could make Democratic turnout numbers seem less than they actually are.

So, were there more Democrats voting than maybe we give them credit for?

Jess Brown said, “No! Well actually here in Madison County, you start with this figure; 86 percent of the registered voters didn’t cast a ballot at all–neither primary. About 11 percent voted in the Republican primary, and about 2.5 to three percent voted in the Democratic Primary. Roughly 5,500 people, in a county this size. 5,500 people voted in the Democratic Primary.”

Brown joked, “It tells me the Democratic Party is just about completed their going out of business sale.”

In fact, in some counties the Democratic Party had very few races with candidates on the ticket. Jess Brown found this interesting and gave us his opinion on if it was a mistake for Democrats not to run race-for-race with Republicans.

“Oh, I think any political party that wants to be really viable, you got to recruit. You got to recruit good candidates for all of the offices to include high profile offices. And what we’ve seen in recent election cycles is the Democratic Party. Oh, they’ve had difficulty doing that,” Brown said.

“I believe the last time Richard Shelby ran, the Democrats didn’t run a viable candidate against him. Senator Sessions this cycle–there’s no candidate. So that’s a sign of weakness for a political party when they have difficulty recruiting candidates,” Brown said.

Brown explained this weakness in the Democratic Party is due to not having a message that resonates with independent voters in Alabama.

The message that some candidates the primary based their campaign on–being anti-Common Core. Those candidates lost.

“The Common Core education standards were tested in our marketplace, right here regionally, and in other pockets of Alabama. And there’s just not much evidence that they resonate with enough voters, that they make a difference in the outcome of an election,” Brown said.

“It appears what you have, Steve, is you have a very, very, very, very small branch of the electorate that is, for some reason, intensely anti-Common Core. Most voters–and  I’m convinced the main stream voter–whether you’re talking about Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, either is ambivalent about Common Core, and they just don’t care much one way or another, or they follow the lead of the business community and say ‘this is okay, it’s worth trying. It may not solve all of the schools problems, but it’s not a conspiracy to brainwash our children.’”

Some politicians’ platforms were based entirely on running against Barack Obama, even though leaders on both sides of the aisle agreed that platform doesn’t influence politics in Montgomery.  Did those ads work? Did they have an effect? Does that still work to run against Barack Obama?”

Jess Brown said, “I don’t think the message worked because after a while, when virtually every viable candidate is saying something that’s anti-president. How is that message getting you a competitive advantage? If everybody drove a Mercedes, what’s the social status of having a Mercedes? In the political marketplace, if you’re just pandering the same message everybody else is pandering…after while, it just becomes a blur to the average voter.”

Even though some races were decided in the primary, we still have things to look forward to in this general election, according to Brown.

“The governor’s race is going to be interesting, largely because of Parker Griffith’s personality, frankly.  He can make it interesting.”

Parker Griffith has made his thoughts clear that he believes Governor Bentley will not agree to a debate, largely due to their personality differences.

Jess Brown weighed in, saying, “If I were the governor I would. I might do it once or twice, but I wouldn’t do any of them very close to election day. But at this point…I think it’s a mistake to avoid a debate.”

Brown added, “Governor Bentley was involved in those debates four years ago, and everybody thought–when you put the old doctor on the stage with the lawyer from Mobile, Bradley Byrne, and you put him with James, the polished business executive, he wouldn’t fare so well. Well, I hate to tell you this, but he did well.”

Brown said a select few races around the state should be interesting to watch, in addition to the governor’s race.

“Senator Marsh’s district and others where the insiders will be interested in a particular legislative race, but for the other down ballot state executive positions, Joe Hubbard might make the attorney general’s race interesting. He’s a fairly interesting guy too. But I think a lot of the other races could just be sleepers.”

Brown said except for some isolate examples, the fun has gone out of general election races in Alabama.

“Political parties need a message that resonates with a wide swath of the electorate of the place they’ve got to operate in, and the Democratic Party of Alabama just doesn’t have that message,” Brown concluded.

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