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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Football and the Alabama Gubernatorial Race

At a time when it seems most elections have been “nationalized,” it’s worth noting that local factors can have a major impact on individual contests. That’s being demonstrated by an incident in the red-hot competitive Alabama gubernatorial race.
Tim James, a Republican candidate closely associated with the Christian Right, has been struggling to get into a runoff position against “establishment” candidate Bradley Byrne. James recently got a boost from an infamous Fred Davis’ “viral” ad that fed the post-Arizona immigration frenzy among Republicans by attacking Alabama’s system of allowing driver’s tests in languages other than English. A new R2K/DKos poll of Alabama shows James moving up and challenging “Ten Commandments Judge” Roy Moore for a runoff spot.
But now James is dealing with a problem that is distinctive to Alabama: reports that he’s said he’d fire or cut the salary of Nick Saban, the coach of the reigning National Championship Alabama Crimson Tide football team. The rumor is apparently based on a remark–which might well have been a joke–the candidate made to a University of Alabama student newspaper. But its power is evidenced by the James’ campaign’s official denials, and the prominence the “issue” has acheived in the primary that will be held on June 1. It has added salience because James’ candidacy owes a lot to the legacy of his father, former Gov. Fob James, who was a star football player at Auburn (the school Tim James also attended).
A Georgia-based college football blogger hilariously referred to this “issue” as “the third rail of Alabama politics.” But in a close primary contest in a state where college football is a quasi-religious phenomenon, that may not be much of an exaggeration.

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