By Todd Stacy, Alabama Daily News
Eighteen months ago, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore seemed like an obvious leading contender for governor in 2018. The office would be coming open so no one would have an incumbency advantage. Moore had aged out of his eligibility to run for reelection as chief justice or any judgeship for that matter. And, his fiercely loyal following among conservative Alabama voters was as strong as ever.
A lot has happened since then, to say the least.
Now, the landscape is much different. While not an incumbent in the traditional sense, current Gov. Kay Ivey is running like one. Whereas once few would have questioned the integrity of the “Ten Commandments judge,” the allegations of sexual abuse and impropriety that surfaced during the Senate special election did real damage to his image amongst the electorate. Moore continues to deny the allegations.
So, given this new political landscape, how would Roy Moore fare if he jumped into the governor’s race now?
Recent private polling taken in the weeks following the special election obtained by Alabama Daily News shows he might not have an easy row to hoe.
In a survey of GOP primary voters, 52 percent held a favorable opinion of Moore and 41 percent held an unfavorable opinion. While the judge is not yet under water, that’s an uncomfortably high fav/unfav ratio, to use polling parlance.
In the same survey, 73 percent of GOP primary voters had a favorable view of Ivey, with just 16 percent viewing her unfavorably. This poll was taken well before any “bump” Ivey is like to receive from her State of the State speech and the big Mazda-Toyota economic development announcement.
Could Moore still mount a challenge? Of course. If anything has proven true in his political career it is that you cannot count out Roy Moore. However, history may not be on his side.
The two statewide primary elections Moore has lost have had one common denominator: stronger and better organized opposition. In 2006 he lost by more than 30 points to incumbent Gov. Bob Riley. In 2010, he came in fourth after Tim James, Robert Bentley and Bradley Byrne.
In the statewide primary races Moore has won, there have been two common denominators: relatively weaker opposition and a segmented race. In 2000, a divided primary between Associate Supreme Court Justice Harold See, Criminal Appeals Judge Pam Baschab, and Jefferson County Circuit Judge Wayne Thorn made it that much easier for Moore to ride his popularity from the Etowah County Ten Commandments flap to victory. In 2012, Moore took advantage of another divided primary between Bentley-appointed Chief Justice Chuck Malone and Charlie Graddick to win his Supreme Court job back. And, finally, in last month’s special election for U.S. Senate Moore’s strong base of support made it easy to overcome incumbent Luther Strange, whom voters perceived as both the Montgomery and Washington establishment’s handpicked senator, as well as Congressman Mo Brooks and State Sen. Tripp Pittman, who combined for 26 percent of the vote.
Should Ivey’s numbers hold up – and there’s no reason at the moment to think they won’t – Moore would not have the luxury of weak opposition if he enters the race.
Could the race become more segmented? Right now Ivey’s strongest challenger is Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. Mobile State Senator Bill Hightower and Birmingham pastor Scott Dawson are also running. All are well-respected men who don’t seem to be running the type of scorched-earth campaigns that could divide primary voters and give Moore an opening. Just yesterday, Battle cordially shared the stage (and the credit) with Ivey as they celebrated the Mazda-Toyota announcement.
If these two factors remain the same, it’s hard to see how Roy Moore makes a quick turnaround run for governor in 2018.
But, this is Alabama. Anything could happen.