By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is seeking to avoid a runoff in Tuesday’s Republican gubernatorial primary and beat back a trio of challengers who have criticized her refusal to meet them on the debate stage.
Her strategy: Highlight her official duties instead of traditional campaign events.
Ivey is seeking to win the office outright after taking it by default in 2017 when then-Gov. Robert Bentley resigned in the messy fallout of an alleged affair with a staffer that prompted an ethics investigation and an impeachment push against him.
Ivey faces Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, evangelist Scott Dawson and state Sen. Bill Hightower in the Republican primary. A July runoff will be required between the top two finishers unless Ivey captures more 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday.
“The big question is can the aggregate of challengers hold Kay under 50 (percent),” said David Mowery, a political consultant in Montgomery.
While Ivey is holding last-minute rallies on Monday, she has shunned many traditional campaign events as she focuses on official duties as governor, small gatherings and a well-financed advertising presence to carry her message.
“The strategy is really don’t get them an opening and dominate the airwaves,” Mowery said.
Her challengers have condemned Ivey’s decision to skip three debates, including one where she was a few miles down the road, throwing out the first pitch at minor league baseball game.
“The other candidates are getting well-vetted. She isn’t,” Hightower said in between Sunday campaign stops, including one at a south Alabama gun show.
Battle campaign spokesman Nick Lough said in a statement that “voters deserve to hear the vision and plans a candidate has.”
Ivey, speaking after a fish fry with supporters last month, dismissed criticisms.
“I’m focused on fighting for Alabama,” Ivey said. “I’m working hard to earn votes and get the most votes I can.”
Ivey has benefited from a robust economy, low unemployment rate and the quieting of the sex-tinged scandal that had surrounded Bentley.
“Number one is she’s not Bentley,” political consultant Angi Horn Stalnaker said of Ivey’s appeal.
To defeat a sitting governor, challengers must either present an energizing alternative or give voters a reason to fire the incumbent, Stalnaker said.
Her opponents have lobbed indirect challenges questioning if Ivey, who turns 74 in the fall, is healthy enough to complete a second term. In response, Ivey released a letter from her doctor saying she has no medical issues that would prevent her “from fulfilling her obligations as governor.”
Her schedule has been full of official appearances such as announcing an expansion at the Hyundai automobile plant in Montgomery and her proposal to allow school administrators to access firearms stored in safes on school grounds.
“It’s sort of the Nixon Rose Garden strategy, letting the message of good government carry the day,” Mowery said.
In the Democratic primary, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, and former state legislator James Fields top a large field.
“It has been a long time since we’ve had such a spirited primary with such good, well-qualified candidates running against each other,” Alabama Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Worley said.
It has been 20 years since Alabama elected a Democrat to the governor’s office. Energized by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones’ victory in December, the party is seeking a revival and has more candidates running this year.
Maddox has collected valuable endorsements, including one from the Alabama Democratic Conference, the state’s largest African-American political organization. Cobb, however, is well-known from her past statewide wins.