Ivey says the election is about keeping Alabama on the right track. Maddox frames it as a decision to break with the choices that have kept Alabama mired in the past.
The race pits the 45-year-old Tuscaloosa mayor — running on a platform of establishing a state lottery to fund education and Medicaid expansion — in his first statewide race against a 74-year-old Republican incumbent who has held three statewide offices. It comes as Democrats are seeking to build on last year’s victory of U.S. Sen. Doug Jones but face tough odds in a state where it has been 20 years since a Democrat last won the governor’s office.
The Republican Ivey is seeking to win the office in her own right for the first time. Ivey, who had been lieutenant governor, became governor 19 months ago when then-Gov. Robert Bentley suddenly resigned in the midst of an impeachment investigation partly centered on his relationship with an aide.
In her trademark antebellum drawl, Ivey told voters through the campaign that she had restored trust to scandal-battered government. She emphasized the state’s record low unemployment rate and recovering economy, opposition to abortion and support of gun rights. Her campaign ads highlight the governor’s folksy no-nonsense demeanor.
During a speech at the University of Alabama football stadium, she used sporting terms to describe the gubernatorial race in in the football-crazed state.
“The state of Alabama has won every single game while I’ve been the head coach. ……Unemployment. The budgets. You name it. Heck, if I wasn’t doing a good job I wouldn’t blame them for considering somebody else,” she said.
“Who would ever consider somebody who’s never coached a single game at this level to be head coach,” she said taking a swipe at Maddox.
Maddox pitched the race as a choice between politicians who are content with the state’s low rankings in education and health care and those who think it could be better.
“We are at or near the bottom in everything that matters. Corruption seems to be the only thing we seem to be good at in Montgomery,” Maddox said at a recent campaign stop.
Maddox said it is “senseless” that Alabama does not have a lottery. He is proposing to create one to fund college scholarships, pre-kindergarten and other education programs. Alabama is one of five states without a lottery.
He said the state’s health care infrastructure for all Alabamians is crumbling with the closure of rural hospitals, “all because we didn’t expand Medicaid.”
The campaigns have lobbed a few direct attacks at each other in the closing month.
Maddox challenged Ivey to release records after the state’s former law enforcement secretary accused Ivey of a cover-up when she was hospitalized in 2015. Spencer Collier said Ivey’s staff directed the state trooper traveling with her not to tell his bosses about the incident and then retaliated against the trooper when he reported the medical emergency.
Ivey denied the accusation and her campaign called Maddox a “lying liberal.”
At a restaurant near the Alabama Capitol, college instructor Lillian Russell said she likes Maddox’ support for the lottery, but also likes Ivey.
“I don’t understand if most of the continental U.S. has a lottery, why we don’t have a lottery,” Russell said. “I actually like Kay Ivey. She’s a woman. The state is going in a good direction. I just think it was on track anyway. President Obama set the stage for that. They are not giving him enough credit.”
Running a confident and risk-adverse campaign, the favored Ivey shunned debates with both Maddox and her primary challengers and has held fewer campaign and media appearances than Maddox.
As a Democrat running in a Republican-dominated state, Maddox has acknowledged his underdog status.
A former football player at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Maddox sometimes tells the story in campaign stops of a coach using colorful language to urge him to not back off in the face of tough odds. If you are going to mess up, at least do it “wide-A open,” Maddox recalled the coach saying.
He said he is approaching the campaign the same way.
“We’ve got work to do… but if we are wide open, look out. We are not going to shock ourselves, but we are going to shock the world,” Maddox said.