In a pair of campaign ads this GOP primary season, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey falsely declares the election was stolen from Donald Trump and accuses the federal government of “shipping illegal immigrants" to the state.
“My message to Biden: No way, Jose," she says.
But a competing ad by former Trump ambassador Lindy Blanchard calls Ivey a “tax-hiking Fauci-loving” liberal, swiping at her for actions during the COVID-19 pandemic and a gas tax increase.
Alabama’s Republican primary has become a race to the right, with candidates staking out extreme positions on abortion, immigration and LGBTQ issues. The race was supposed to be a cake walk for Ivey — who still remains favored to win a second full term — but right flank opponents are trying to make it a referendum on conservative credentials as they seek to push the Alabama governor into a runoff.
Blanchard, who left the U.S. Senate race to run for governor, said there are GOP voters who are not happy with Ivey's leadership on a number of issues. She particularly cited Ivey's support for the gas tax increase and mask mandates and business closures during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t want the government anywhere near my health care telling me what to do," Blanchard said. “I want the people of Alabama to know that if you like Gov. DeSantis and Kristi Noem, then you’ll like Gov. Blanchard,” she said referencing the Florida and South Dakota governors.
It is historically difficult for a primary challenger to defeat an incumbent governor. None of the primary challengers have the footprint to defeat Ivey alone. They instead are placing hopes that they can collectively garner enough primary votes and keep Ivey below 50% of the vote to spark a runoff and a new political ballgame.
Ivey faces a total of eight primary challengers. Blanchard and businessman Tim James — the son of former Gov. Fob James — are seen as the strongest contenders. Another challenger is Lew Burdette, who runs King’s Home, a Christian-based nonprofit with group homes throughout the state. The other five contenders are: former Morgan County Commissioner Stacy Lee George; Opelika pastor Dean Odle; businessman Dean Young; Donald Trent Jones and Springville Mayor Dave Thomas.
“I think GOP voters need to think about their children and their grandchildren and who do they want to lead this state over the next four years in a season that is obviously going to be, probably, rocky in many areas,” James said in an interview. James said he believes voters are angry about the mask mandate, education issues and the gas tax increase that includes a provision for automatic increases based on the National Highway Construction Cost Index.
“Governor Ivey and the political crowd found a way to raise taxes forever without having to vote on them,” James said in the ad. James in other ads called transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, “a man in a woman’s bathing suit” and criticized a first of its kind charter school in Homewood that was created to welcome LGBTQ students.
An Ivey campaign spokesman said the governor is confident she will win without runoff. Spokesman William Heartsill said the governor's record speaks for itself. “Governor Ivey has done what other people are only talking about doing.”
Among other actions, the campaign cited her record on job creation and her signing of legislation to try to ban abortion at any stage of pregnancy, forbid transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams at schools and outlawing the use of puberty-blockers and hormones to treat transgender minors.
“Kay Ivey is the most conservative governor our state has ever had. She has always been a fighter for conservative values and that will never change,” Heartsill said.
Blanchard, who was Trump’s ambassador to Slovenia, ran an ad that questioned why Ivey didn’t appear on stage with Trump at a Cullman rally. It was there that a cantankerous crowd jeered U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks for suggesting that voters focus energy on the next election since they couldn't change the outcome of the most recent presidential contest. Ivey greeted Trump at the airport and her office distributed photos of the meeting. Trump has not weighed in on the Alabama race.
The dynamic is playing out in other states. J.D. Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” won the Republican primary for an Ohio Senate seat in a race where contenders competed to be the most Trump-like candidate.
State Rep. Mike Ball, who is retiring after 20 years in the Alabama Legislature, said the candidates all have staunchly conservative positions and are in a race amongst themselves to be the most conservative of all.
“There are some extreme positions being taken in this primary. Look at the ads on these hot button issues," he said.
David Mowery, an Alabama-based political consultant, said right now there is “a lot of sound and fury and we’ll see what it signifies on Election Day.”
“Ivey still has the upper hand and at least a solid shot of winning without a runoff,” he said.