GOP governor’s campaigns heating up

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 5, 2002

BNI Newswire

One is on a motorcycle trip across the central part of the state. One has already outlined his first 90 days on the job. And another is still trying to do that job, visiting communities and tackling money problems in the state.

Just another week for Alabama’s gubernatorial candidates.

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Republican Bob Riley of Ashland, who currently represents Alabama’s third Congressional District, embarked Saturday on a motorcycle trip from Birmingham to Montgomery to help raise awareness of his campaign.

Meanwhile, his chief rival for the GOP nomination, Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, reiterated his plans to "clean up Montgomery."

"I am the only one who can clean up the mess because I am the only one who has a plan," Windom said. "I will spend the next month sharing my ‘Covenant to Change Alabama.’ Chapter One – The First 90 Days’ lets people know what I will do my first 90 days in office.

Among the things Windom wants to do: post state checkbooks under the governor’s control on the Internet; create a stringent competitive bid process for contracts under the governor’s control; and form the Stop Waste in Alabama Today (SWAT) team to help "cut the fat" from state budgets.

"The defining issue in this race is change and which candidate can truly change the way things are done in Montgomery," Windom said. "I am that candidate."

Meanwhile, Tim James, a distant third for the GOP nomination according to polls, visited Troy last week and discussed some recent candidate endorsements.

James said he is not surprised Riley – who made his money raising chickens in Clay County -received the endorsement of the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association last week.

"I know why," said James, whose campaign trail came through Troy on Tuesday, "because he’s a big chicken."

Despite the polls, James, the son of former Gov. Fob James, said he is still in the race.

"These people don’t know me. They know my daddy," he said. "But this election’s going to be won in the last three weeks. Images are going to move off to the side. There’s going to be two defining issues in this primary; a question of re-writing the constitution and raising taxes."

James has been adamant in his opposition to a new constitution, while Riley, Windom and Gov. Don Siegelman have all voiced support for some kind of constitution reform.

Still, while the polls might not determine the winner of the race yet, they are having an effect on campaign contributions, according to some political watchers.

The political newsletter "Inside Alabama Politics" claims that polls that show Riley leads Windom have "dampened some Windom campaign contributors’ enthusiasm for the Windom campaign."

According to reports filed recently with the secretary of state’s office, Riley has a campaign balance of $1.3 million, while Windom has more than $1.2 million – which includes a $450,000 loan from Regions Bank.

Siegelman has $4.5 million in his war chest, having raised more than $1.2 million just since January.

Siegelman, who most likely does not face serious opposition from Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bishop in the Democratic primary, has been touring communities around Montgomery in the past week to help them put a strategy in place to attract Hyundai suppliers.

While the trips are certainly not designated as campaign stops, the governor’s new TV campaign ads do call attention to his success in bringing jobs to Alabama, most recently with the announcement of Hyundai’s locating to Hope Hull.

Bishop said last week that the job claims in those TV ads "don’t add up."

"According to figures released by the Department of Labor, the unemployment rate in Alabama was 4.2 percent when Don Siegelman took office in 1999, and the latest figures through March 2002 show an unemployment rate of 6 percent," Bishop said. "That’s an increase of nearly 2 percent, and I want the governor to explain how he can claim to create 68,000 new jobs and have the unemployment rate increase at the same time. It just doesn’t add up."