By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
DALEVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Speaking before plates of fried catfish were dished out to supporters at a south Alabama campaign event, Gov. Kay Ivey argued that the state is “stronger” than it was a year ago.
As she seeks to win the office of governor in her own right after catapulting into the job last year, Ivey’s message has been relatively simple: The state is doing better than it was a year ago when her predecessor stepped down under the cloud of a sex-tinged scandal.
“Alabama is better and stronger than it was a year ago,” Ivey said.
In her brief speech, she touted the state’s record low unemployment rate — a decline that mirrors a national drop in unemployment — and named companies that have announced projects, including a Toyota-Mazda joint venture, in the state. Although many of those economic development deals were in the works before Ivey took office, they were finalized while she was governor.
“Today, more people are working in Alabama than at any other time in our state’s history,” Ivey said.
Ivey faces evangelist Scott Dawson, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and state Sen. Bill Hightower in the Republican primary.
After serving a year as governor and building name recognition by being elected state treasurer and lieutenant governor, Ivey is the presumed favorite heading into the peak of primary season. The more looming question is whether she will be forced into a runoff with one of her GOP challengers. Ivey must capture more than 50 percent of the vote during the June voting to avoid a runoff later in the summer.
Her campaign has been relatively low key, focusing on official events as governor rather than the campaign trail. Her challengers criticized Ivey for skipping two debates. Although it’s not unusual for incumbent front runners to skip debates— under the theory that they have nothing to gain by taking the debate stage— Dawson has argued that Ivey was never “vetted” for the position of governor.
Ivey responded that she is focused on her duties as governor.
“It doesn’t matter because I’m focused on fighting for Alabama.”
Her challengers have also tried to indirectly raise an issue of the 73-year-old front-runner’s age and health while refraining from directly questioning if she is physically fit enough for office. All three released medical information, either test results or a letter from a doctor, after a challenge by Hightower.
Ivey, who has not released her own medical records, dismissed Hightower’s challenge as a “publicity stunt.”
“If Mr. Hightower has a problem with my age, he ought to come out and just plumb say it instead of hiding behind you guys in the media for a publicity stunt. For those people in this great state who generally care about me and my heath, I’m proud to say that my health is doing quite well and I thank the good Lord for it every day,” Ivey told The Associated Press.