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Gov’s race is marquee event

Without a doubt the governor’s race is always the marquee political show every four years. This year is no exception. However, there is another interesting plot developing. Many Goat Hill insiders are more intrigued with this year’s legislative elections. The battle for control of the House and Senate will not only play out this year but will carryover into the January organizational session.

The Republicans believe that they can capture a majority in the Senate and maybe also in the House. Whether they win this year remains to be seen. However most astute observers believe the GOP takeover is inevitable in 2014. The trends are there and once the new census figures are digested it will be hard to avoid the fact that most of the population growth in the State is in the fast growing Republican suburbs.

There is at least a 50/50 chance that the Republican transformation may occur this year. It would have transpired earlier if it were not for the fact that at least five Republican leaning seats are held by long serving conservative Democratic icons. Most folks agree that Hinton Mitchem, Tom Butler, Jim Preuitt, Wendell Mitchell and Ted Little have thwarted and forestalled the inevitable GOP coup.

There are six Senate seats that the pros are watching. The polling is hard to decipher in these races because most voters are reticent to decide on their choice due to a lingering disenchantment with politicians and politics. The pollsters are finding that voters want to vote against all incumbents and prefer a Republican. It is a Republican year not only nationwide but definitely in Alabama.

Hinton Mitchem’s retirement left open a very good prospective Republican takeover. This Marshall County Sand Mountain area is trending Republican. Early on it looked as if this would be a cakewalk for the Republicans. However, the Democrats fielded a thoroughbred in Marshall County, Probate Judge Tim Mitchell. He is favored to win and keep the seat in the Democratic ranks.

Another judge may save the day for the Democrats in Talladega County. Senator Jim Preuitt switched to the GOP on the last day of qualifying but has since dropped out of the race. He was replaced by Roy Robbins. The Democratic horse is recently retired Circuit Judge Jerry Fielding. He started early and is well financed and will be hard for the handpicked Republican to derail.

Tom Butler’s suburban Madison/Limestone County seat is the most Republican enclave served by a Democrat. Butler always receives a strong GOP challenge even though he is popular. His refusal to change parties will cost him and it may be this year. Remember the polling data reveals an anti-incumbent and anti-Democratic mood.

It was thought that the GOP would get a surprise gift when Senate veteran Wendell Mitchell became very ill in the waning days of the 2010 Legislative Session. His condition appeared ominous. However, he has recovered and is probably back on the road to reelection to at least one more four year term. Mitchell’s district is destined to be altered in reapportionment with the burgeoning growth of Autauga and Elmore counties. It will be very close this year because he is in a Republican seat.

Another close race being watched is the reelection campaign of veteran State Senator Ted Little. Lee County has become a Republican county and Little will have a tough test against his Republican challenger.

In an adjoining east Alabama district, former State Senator Gerald Dial is running to take back his seat. He is running as a Republican after serving over two decades as a conservative Democrat. It was thought early on that this seat would be garnered for the GOP by Dial’s conversion and comeback. However, he is perceived as an incumbent and may be hampered by the anti-incumbent backlash. Democrat Greg Varner is hard charging and may surprise some folks and take this seat for the Democrats.

A surprise victory for the GOP may occur in the Tuscaloosa area. Republican Gerald Allen may benefit from the coattails of the popular Tuscaloosa GOP gubernatorial nominee Dr. Robert Bentley. Allen may take out the controversial incumbent Democrat Phil Poole.

By all counts the makeup of the Senate will probably culminate with a breakeven partisan gridlock. If you think that the Senate has been a quagmire for the past four years you ain’t seen nothing yet.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.