With the 2022 Alabama primary election now less than a year away, the field of candidates for state offices is beginning to take shape, starting at the top of the ballot.
Gov. Kay Ivey announced Wednesday she would seek a second four-year term.
Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, Attorney General Steve Marshall, and Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate have announced they will run for reelection.
All four are Republicans in a state where the GOP holds every statewide office.
Alabama voters will also elect a new U.S. senator next year. Congressman Mo Brooks of Huntsville and businesswoman Lynda Blanchard of Montgomery are running for the Republican nomination to replace Sen. Richard Shelby, who is not seeking reelection. Katie Boyd Britt, Shelby’s former chief of staff, announced this week she was stepping down as president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama to pursue other opportunities but has not announced that she is running to replace her former boss.
Ivey became governor in April 2017, moving up from lieutenant governor when Gov. Robert Bentley resigned. In 2018, Ivey soundly defeated Republican challengers and the Democratic nominee, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, to win a full term.
That extended Ivey’s winning streak in statewide races to five. She was elected state treasurer in 2002 and 2006 and lieutenant governor in 2010 and 2014.
David Mowery, a political consultant in Montgomery, said he believes voters generally like Ivey’s style of governing, an approach that is more about issues than about drawing attention.
“That head-down, kind of getting-her-work-done stuff has worked for her,” Mowery said. “She hasn’t been rousing rabble about really anything. It seems like they did a good job with the pandemic stuff. Now they’re doing a good job pulling out of the pandemic stuff and opening back up. And I think that it’s kind of clear that voters trust her and trust her judgement and will probably reward her with another term.”
In 2018, Ivey, 76, fended off questions that challengers raised about her age and health. The governor received radiation treatment for lung cancer in 2019. But she said the malignancy was tiny and isolated and her radiation doctor said last year he considered her to be cured.
Asked Wednesday if she had the stamina for another four years, Ivey gave a short answer: “Four more years and more if I could run again.” Constitutional officers in Alabama are limited to two consecutive terms.
Related: If reelected, Kay Ivey could become Alabama’s second-longest serving governor
So far, the governor has one Republican challenger, a political newcomer. Dean Odle of Cusseta, who operates a church and Christian school in east Alabama, is the only candidate who has announced so far.
There was speculation that Ainsworth would challenge Ivey, talk that was fueled when the lieutenant governor spoke out against some of her decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the statewide mask order. But Ainsworth cleared the air in April, announcing he would not run against Ivey and would run for reelection if Ivey sought another term as governor. Ainsworth kicks off his campaign Friday night in Guntersville. Ivey is one of the scheduled guests.
Mowery said the absence of high-profile challengers is a sign of Ivey’s strength.
“I’m not disparaging our lieutenant governor but he’s definitely an ambitious guy,” Mowery said. “So, I think that if there was any vulnerability there, him or another top tier candidate would probably be looking at it a little bit more closely.”
No Democrats have announced for the governor’s race or any other statewide race.
After Ivey’s announcement Wednesday, the state Democratic Party released a statement saying Ivey and her Republican predecessors have not helped average Alabamians. The party said Alabama needs a governor who will support raising the minimum wage to $15, expanding Medicaid, legalizing marijuana, and criminal justice reforms that would reduce incarceration instead of spending billions on new prisons.
“After 20 years of Republicans in the Governor’s mansion, Alabama consistently ranks at the bottom of nearly every list, whether it’s healthcare, education, vaccinations,” the party statement said. “Kay Ivey has had four years to improve our lives, but just like the Republicans who came before her, she has done nothing to improve anyone’s lives unless they’re a millionaire or a politician.”
Alabama Democrats, however, don’t have a challenger who has stepped forward so far to take on Ivey in 2022.
Ivey worked with the Legislature on 2019 to raise the state’s gasoline and diesel tax for the first time since 1992 to support road and bridge projects. Legislative leaders supported the plan, which was several years in the making and eventually had bipartisan support.
Brent Buchanan, founder and CEO of the political polling firm Cygnal, said a challenger might try to attack Ivey on the tax increase but does not think it would work. He referred to one of Ivey’s favorite sayings when asked about her chances next year.
“Governor Ivey says there’s no step too high for a high stepper, and she has stepped so high above any other potential candidate they would need a rocket to catch her,” Buchanan said in an email. “I can’t think of a single person who could give her a run for her money because she so wildly popular, especially with Republicans.
“A potential challenger might try to hit her on the gas tax but Alabama voters are appreciative of the significant amount of road improvements they’re seeing because of that bold decision by the Governor and legislature. It might seem like a good issue for a GOP primarily but I expect it to fall flat with voters.”
Jess Brown, retired political science professor at Athens State University and longtime observer of Alabama politics, said Ivey is well positioned to win in a landslide.
Brown said the Democratic Party in Alabama is doing slightly better, but probably still unable to challenge her effectively.
Ivey has had a couple of recent setbacks. Her plan for the state to lease new prisons that would be financed and built by private developers, which the administration and the Department of Corrections worked on for more than two years, failed to materialize because the developers could not obtain financing. The governor said she will work with the Legislature to find a new way to pay for the prisons because they are a necessity.
Also, a plan for a lottery, casinos, sports betting, and statewide regulation of gambling that Ivey supported died in the closing days of the legislative session that ended May 17.
There is still time to win approval of those initiatives before the 2022 election. Brown said those, coupled with the gas tax plan to improve highways, would give the governor an effective resume for reelection.
“(Ivey’s) governing style reflects more pragmatism than ideology,” Brown said in an email.
Updated at 6:22 p.m. to add comments from Jess Brown.