Siegelman, Riley win

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 5, 2002


BNI Newswire

U.S. Rep. Bob Riley, whose campaign had been steadily growing in the polls, easily won the GOP nomination for governor Tuesday to set up a faceoff with Gov. Don Siegelman, who easily outdistanced his own opponents for the nomination.

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Siegelman immediately challenged his November opponent to a series of debates.

The governor won with more than 70 percent of the vote, acknowledging pre-election polls that showed him winning without a runoff.

In the GOP race, Lt. Gov. Steve Windom conceded early, as did Tim James.

Riley finished

with more than 70 percent of the vote. James garnered less than 10 percent.

Siegelman wasted no time challenging his opponent to discuss the issues, suggesting both enter a series of statewide debates after Siegelman returns from an industry recruiting trip out of the country.

As his supporters screamed and clapped, Siegelman said Riley will not be able to avoid the issues before November.

"On every issue of importance, the people of Alabama are on our side and that’s why we’re going to win in November," Siegelman told supporters shortly after 9 p.m. "We support more dollars for education. Bob Riley does not. We believe education should be funded properly. Bob Riley believes education should be cut."

Polls on Sunday showed both Siegelman and Riley with comfortable leads.

Siegelman, who spent less than a fourth of his campaign war chest for the primary, beat back an attempt by Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bishop and three other lesser known opponents to win his party’s nomination.

Tuesday night found Riley at home, at a victory party at the Ashland town square.

"It’s great to be home, it’s great to be in Clay County, it’s great to be with people you love," Riley told cheering supporters.

He thanked family and friends, then turned his attention to the main issue in his campaign ­ corruption.

"Eleven months ago, right here, I said Alabama deserved a governor who was honest and won’t be corrupt, and we’re about to have it. The people of Alabama deserve a governor who is honest and will go to Montgomery and work for you and not his buddies."

More than 3,000 people turned out for Riley’s victory party, which was a fair atmosphere with a moonwalk, pony rides and games.

Riley touched on Siegelman’s re-introduction of the lottery, to which he is opposed.

"When he said he didn’t have a plan B, he meant it," Riley said, referring to the 1998 gubernatorial campaign, when Siegelman did not have an alternative to his lottery plan to raise funds for a scholarship program.

"A new day in Alabama starts tonight," Riley said.

If Siegelman wins in November, he would become the first Democratic governor since former four-term Gov. George C. Wallace to win re-election. Former

Gov. Guy Hunt won re-election in 1990 after becoming the first Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction, but he was later removed from office for a felony ethics conviction. His name was back on the ballot Tuesday in a

North Alabama state Senate race.

Siegelman hit hard during the campaign season to talk about jobs, although he started late in the spring with his actual campaigning.

His commercials said "68,000" jobs had been created during his term. He repeated the statement Tuesday night and said there are more jobs to come to Alabama. "We’

Re just starting, and we will not quit working for more jobs for Alabamians."

Siegelman supported his claim talking about the recent announcement by Hyundai Motor Company to build its $1 billion plant outside Montgomery.

Pollsters said that was a re-election coup that worked well for the governor, despite early term problems with no-bid state contracts, and a speeding ticket controversy that ended up costing some on his immediate staff their jobs, and stiff discipline.

Siegelman also said he would ask the Legislature to let voters once again consider a lottery to fund education, and while it stirred his Republican opponents, it did not appear to concern voters.

The last attempt to pass the lottery came just months after he was elected almost four years ago. That attempt lost by some 9 percent statewide. A religious-backed voter turnout defeated the proposal. If proponent voters had turned out as polls had shown, the proposal would have won.

Siegelman used the need for education funding to boost discussion of a lottery again.

On the Republican side, there was little talk of specific issues from Riley, who vacated his Third District congressional seat due to self-imposed term limits to run for governor.

He campaigned on his conservative values and the need to "clean up Montgomery," and to "give Alabama a fresh start."

"If you’re ready to change Alabama, it starts tomorrow," Riley said in a final campaign swing across the state on Monday. "If you’re ready to change Montgomery, it starts tomorrow."

Riley said he wants to surround himself with experienced leadership, echoing President Bush.

Riley played down his ties to Montgomery and played up his experience as a congressman. He used the chance to attack anything and anyone connected to

Montgomery as bad. Before November, Siegelman said Riley will have to prove to voters he has plans to do more than talk about being governor.

Riley and Windom went at it early and often and Windom’s early negative campaign ads even prompted him to admit it was wrong to do so. But when the latest polls showed him trailing badly to Riley, he went negative again with

Monday commercials on statewide television attacking Riley for so-called gambling connections with the horse industry.

Riley stuck to his game plan and James, while taking shots at Riley too, was not heard by many as he pledged no new taxes and no constitutional reform.

His father left the office four years earlier at the hands of Siegelman.

Windom’s defeat was probably the biggest upset of the night. He had troubles early after attacking Riley, losing supporters in the mainstream of the GOP.

His own Senate caucus abandoned him for Riley before campaigning began and the one-time Democratic trial lawyer had said, after polls showed him behind on Sunday, that "someone would be embarrassed" before it was all over.