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Political analyst: Democrat Walt Maddox needs a new message, should borrow from Alabama GOP playbook

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- While Labor Day traditionally marks the real beginning of the fall campaign, Alabama’s race for the governor’s office still finds incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey cruising, arguing she’s too busy to debate Democrat Walt Maddox.

WHNT News 19 political analyst Jess Brown says that will go on until Maddox finds a message that gains traction.

“She will continue to treat her opponent like the proverbial gnat on an elephant’s butt, as long as she senses she enjoys a gap in the polling where she’s leading by 14-16 points,” Brown said.

But, if Maddox climbs above 42 percent in the polling, things will change, Brown said.

“Every point he goes above 42, seems to me she’s taking risks if she doesn’t engage him and take him on, on issues and or get on the stage and debate him,” he said.

The problem, according to Brown, is Maddox won’t close the gap with his current message.

“He has to do more to redefine the agenda,” Brown said. “Because if he says, ‘I’m for rural health care and we’re going to reopen closed hospitals and I’m for a lottery’ … let’s see, three governor’s elections in a row, what have we heard Democrats argue?”

Maddox has a lead in cash on hand, $476,000 to Ivey’s $338,000, but to make a race, he has to focus voters' attention, Brown told WHNT News 19.

“He has to pick, an issue, or a small set of issues, that are new,” Brown said.

Brown has a suggestion on how Maddox could shake up the race: use the old Alabama GOP playbook.

“I still do not understand why Democrats, a Democrat for governor, does not advocate structural reform,” Brown said. “Because Republicans who suggested a generation ago that if they were in power in Alabama they’d bring about structural reform, they’ve done very, very, very little of it.”

Structural reform could include term limits and targeting corruption.

“An ethics commission with more power,” Brown said. “Putting the state legislature on television just like Congress is on C-SPAN."

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Alabama Republicans hold the levers of power, from the governor’s office and statewide offices, to the legislature and the courts, Brown said.

“One thing Republicans cannot do in 2018 that they could do in 2010, if the voters had a bad taste in their mouth about Montgomery, Republicans had the luxury of blaming everything on the Democrats,” Brown said.

That won’t work this time.

“Well after 8 years, Maddox as an outsider can say, ‘8 years,’” Brown said. He said Maddox can put the question to voters, "Are you better off?"

“The roads are crumbling, the schools are no better, you still can’t vote on a lottery,” Brown said. “But he has to do more than simply say ‘I’m for a lottery and I want to open up hospitals.’”

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