Thursday, July 8, 2010

Random Thoughts Before the Runoff

There's less than a week to go before the July 13 runoff, and a few recent developments in the news have caught my eye. Normally, I prefer providing perspective to reporting developments, but these new facts do have places in analyses I have previously made. The fact that they all bear on runoff races mean they won't be timely after next Tuesday, so here goes.

The GOP Gubernatorial Runoff. As I predicted - and ironically suggested - Byrne has pulled out the stops, hitting Bentley with attack ads based on Bentley's alleged links to AEA. There are two such ads up, and both seem to be getting a pretty decent GRP buy:

It is amusing the way the Byrne ads gratuitously toss in Dr. Reed's photo to make sure Bubba knows that Bentley is in cahoots with "them." This is straight out of the Guy Hunt 1990 playbook, where GOP ads also liberally showed Dr. Reed. I wonder how Republican admakers will telegraph race when Dr. Reed retires at AEA? In any event, Bentley is now feeling the sting of negative for the first time, and that will have to have some impact. AEA doesn't get a strong reaction from mainstream voters, but it is loathed by party activists, who will constitute a larger portion of the runoff electorate. The Riley quote, in case you hadn't yet heard it, underscores how heavily the GOP establishment is rallying behind Byrne. Bentley also suffered a minor self-inflicted wound from his own ad, which arguably exaggerated his Vietnam-era war record.

[SEE CORRECTION AT END OF POST] On the other hand, there has been an interesting development out of Tuscaloosa County, as reported this week by The Tuscaloosa News. It seems that, since the June 1 primary, the voter rolls in Tuscaloosa County have been fattened by over 10,000 new names, an increase of roughly 10% in just a few weeks. This is an astronomical registration surge in such a short time. The most logical explanation is that Bentley's strong primary showing created a sensation of viability, that has awakened favorite-son interest in his candidacy. If there is that kind of excitement on the ground in the Druid City, Bentley can only benefit, as the GOP primary turnout in Tuscaloosa was an anemic 16.2%. While there is some conflicting data and analysis in the literature, it seems to be the better view that recent registrants turn out at higher levels than typical voters, particularly when their registration is keyed to a particular event or current election. This, of course, would be the case with any new voters drawn to Bentley as Tuscaloosa's favorite son. One key question, not addressed in the News article, is whether this is the result of a spontaneous groundswell of Bentley support, or of a concerted GOTV field operation. If the former, it's a truly remarkable phenomenon. If the latter, less so, but still significant. It's not that difficult to register voters; all you need is some basic information on a postcard. Even if this is the result of a field operation, it's still a good sign for Bentley. The low turnout in Tuscaloosa in the primary indicates that Bentley did not have a good GOTV op there in the first round. Just the outreach necessary to get 10,000 postcards filled out is going to create a buzz, and that can boost turnout Tuesday. Maybe the Doc got something more for his money (paid to Huckabee's son in law) than just the endorsement.

Just how important is a bloc of votes that size? Well, considering that Byrne's margin over Bentley in the primary was only 13,772 votes, and overall turnout is usually lower in runoffs, it's potentially significant. From another perspective, extrapolating the most recent GOP gubernatorial runoff turnout (15.4% from 1998) to current active registration figures, produces a potential turnout of about 388,000. Since you would only need half of that to win, or about 194,000, that could be a big block. In any event, the polarity of the break, and the turnout, of the former James and Moore vote, will probably have a more decisive impact than the Tuscaloosa surge. But if the race becomes close, everyone will be waiting on the AP report from Greensboro Avenue.

Considering the potential impact of the Moore and James votes, the two runoff candidates seem to be focusing most of their face time in the closing weeks in counties in which they led in the primary, apparently placing a premium on turnout over persuasion.

One poll released late this week, and being touted by the Bentley camp, shows him with a 20% lead over Byrne. I have frequently cautioned about the reliability of primary polls, and this one has more problems than most. It doesn't specify the contact method (robocall vs. live caller), and they are using data from recent primaries in 2008 and 2006 to adjust for turnout. This is not a sound practice, as neither of those primaries was a runoff, and neither featured a contested gubernatorial race. Finally, the poll admits that it outsources its sample list. This is the polling equivalent of buying a car from a maker that admits it buys its engines from an outside supplier. I still think it comes down to turnout. If turnout is low, party insiders deliver it to Byrne. If enough non-insiders show up, it breaks to Bentley. For what it is worth in that department, Tuesday's forecast for Birmingham, which seems to be typical for the state:

July 13

Scattered T-Storms
Scattered T-Storms

High 90°
Low 74°

Precipitation 40%

7th Congressional District Runoff. One of the rules of being a candidate is, that when an organization has endorsed you, and set up a debate between you and your opponent, it's not a good idea to stand up the event, and let it be turned into a rally for your opponent, in front of your endorsers. As Terri Sewell did last week at a Birmingham New South debate. For a campaign that dropped a money bomb on the district for a first place finish in the primary, the Sewell team is doing some strange things this close to the runoff. For one thing, the candidate was working the canapé circuit in Mountain Brook as recently as Tuesday night of this week. Normally, a slower finance event like this, this close to D-Day, would indicate a campaign with an empty piggy bank. If not that, one with a strange sense of candidate time utilization. With so little time left to connect to voters, a candidate's time is normally better spent working a Piggly Wiggly parking lot or a Little League crowd. Sewell strikes me as the sort of candidate who would much prefer canapés in Mountain Brook to pressing the flesh (think John Kerry), and it may be that her staff simply didn't get its druthers. Look for some second guessing if Smoot's frenzied crowd-working pays off and she edges Sewell.

Attorney General Democratic Runoff. This has been a relatively quiet campaign, with both candidates making interesting and progressive statements about the death penalty. Perkins's more forceful call for a moratorium hasn't gotten a lot of play in the mainstream media, but there are rumblings that it's been noted - and appreciated - in the black community. Anderson, for his part, has not gone full throttle for the runoff, apparently wanting to save cash on hand and untapped donors for a fall contest with "Big Oil" Luther Strange. Given that the Business Council will finance Strange handsomely, this is not an irrational strategy. Perkins will doubtless close the substantial gap between himself and Anderson, but Anderson should emerge the winner, with his campaign treasury undepleted by runoff expenses.

The deadlines for registration and non-emergency absentee voting are past, so all that remains to remember is 7A to 7 P, and show up and vote.

CORRECTION: Just a few minutes ago, I got an email response to an inquiry I made about the extent of the Brantley ground effort in Tuscaloosa County. It seems The Tuscaloosa News printed a correction this morning, acknowledging that the report of 10,000 new voters there since the primary was an error. I can't find the correction on their website, but I did snag a visual from their front page at

Now, I don't want to make accusations while the facts are out, but that's a pretty big "error." More importantly, the original story, linked above, quoted this Viselli person responding to why there was such a huge increase. Now, even if the reporter made an honest mistake (as the correction claims), surely Ms. Viselli knew the 10,000 figure was wrong. I think I'd notice the difference in processing one application every other day, and about 330 every working day. This report generated a lot of political buzz across Alabama, favorable to Bentley, and the retraction isn't even online. Either Ms. Viselli, the News, or both, need to come forth with a better explanation. As for Bentley's chances, my earlier analysis premised on a better Tuscaloosa turnout is obviously invalid. And if only 24 new voters appeared in Tuscaloosa since Bentley's campaign gained the appearance of viability in the primary, there's no reason to think turnout will be any better in Tuscaloosa than it was in the first round. I don't know if Paul the World Cup Octopus is making a prediction in the GOP runoff, but I think he just swam a few inches further from the Bentley flag.


  1. I hear Terri is giving the New South Coalition the middle finger in more ways than standing them up for forums. According to my sources she is not giving them GOTV money (I wonder why?) because she would rather spend the money on TeeVee ads. Maybe that's why she's hitting the canape circuit :).

  2. Or maybe she's getting her GOTV money the same way Artur did, off the books, and from NYC. I got Cat-scratched for noting those "rumors" on LiA. "We don't stoop to rumors here." That is, of course, unless the rumor is that Smoot is going to be indicted; then it's not only OK, it's worth a lead post.

  3. Exactly. The cats can dish out the rumors but they can't take them. Read The perservation of the truth.

  4. Don't forget that the University of Alabama is in Tuscaloosa. How many of those kids might have registered to vote in T-town? And given the very conservative bent that the University is taking these days, it wouldn't be a surprise if those voters were members of the College Republicans.

    On a different topic, I'm going against Paul the Wonder Octo. I'm with Holland. Gotta hit a pub tomorrow to watch Howard Webb ref the game. Or the pub car on the train to London.

  5. I know the NFL has an AA farm team in Tuscaloosa. There's a university there too?