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Alabama Runoff: Business As Usual

Going into yesterday's Alabama runoffs, the Republican gubernatorial contest revolved around rumors of a big, teacher-union-generated Democratic crossover vote in favor of Dr. Robert Bentley, along with speculation that his opponent, Bradley Byrne, might have gained crucial momentum by accusing Bentley of being a Democratic or union stooge.

Bentley beat Byrne 56-44, and a cursory look at the returns shows no evidence of any massive Democratic crossover vote. In fact, turnout was down 6% from the primary, with no apparent relationship between Republican turnout numbers and those counties with or without significant Democratic contests to keep Dems on their side of the line. Moreover, Byrne did quite well in most of the counties with a big Democratic constituency. There was some anecdotal buzz yesterday about Democratic crossover in isolated locations (e.g., Madison County, where Republican turnout actually dropped 17%), but most election officials said it didn't seem to be happening.

The much more likely explanation is that Bentley got the bulk of voters who cast ballots for Tim James and Roy Moore in the primary, hardly a stretch since both their campaign managers endorsed Bentley. James voters in particularly probably discounted Byrne's attacks on Bentley as no more credible than Byrne's earlier attacks on their candidate.

In any event, future Republican candidates who think demonizing teachers unions is a failsafe strategy should take a close look at Alabama.

In the two congressional runoffs, nothing that unusual happened, either. In the 2d district Republican contest, "establishment" candidate Martha Roby easily despatched Tea Party activist Rick Barber 60-40, beating him nearly three-to-one in their common home county, Montgomery, where the fiery pool hall owner did not gather his armies effectively. Roby will now face Democratic incumbent Bobby Bright in what is expected to be a close race in November.

And in the 7th district Democratic contest, where the Democratic nomination really is tantamount to election, Terri Sewell, who had superior financial resources and significant national support, defeated Shelia Smoot 55-45, with the key being Sewell's 54-46 margin in Jefferson County, where local races boosted turnout.