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Siegelman's trial keeps Dems on edge

By Staff
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY – It is perfectly understandable that leaders of the Alabama Democratic Party are having a few sleepless nights as the June 6 primary election draws nearer.
The cause of their tossing and turning, yes, even nightmares, is what to do should Don Siegelman win the gubernatorial nomination but then be convicted in federal court of a felony. If Siegelman should win and then be convicted he would be disqualified from holding public office. Even if he appealed the conviction, which he would surely do under this hypothetical situation, it would make no difference.
Should this happen — and all of this is purely hypothetical — the Democrats would have but two choices: Handpick a gubernatorial nominee or call a special primary election. And the mere mention of the word "handpicking" causes the Democrats to break out in a cold sweat. The party handpicked a candidate for governor in 1986 and it changed the Alabama political landscape forever.
That was recent enough for most of you to remember. The nomination of Charlie Graddick for governor was voided because he openly solicited Republican "crossover votes," Bill Baxley was hand-picked as the nominee, and the voters were so incensed they elected Republican Guy Hunt to the office.
But more than that, far more than that, this handpicking gave enormous impetus to the Republican Party in Alabama.
How enormous, you ask? In 1986 not one state office was held by a Republican; today you can almost count on one hand the number of state offices held by Democrats.
Obviously the outcome Democrat leaders are praying for is that Siegelman will be cleared of all charges. That would be the best case, or that he not win the primary.
For one, all of these surveys say almost the identical thing about the Bob Riley-Roy Moore contest for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, which is that it is no contest.
In my trade it has always been accepted that if a candidate won by a 55-percent-to-45-percent margin it was considered a landslide. If the Riley-Moore race turns out like all the polls suggest, we may have to come up with a new descriptive adjective.
Far more tantalizing have been the polling numbers in the Baxley-Siegelman race. One has Siegelman leading by a couple of points, another has Baxley ahead by about the same margin, and still another called the race a "dead heat."
One poll which has not been released publicly, and one that I have always put considerable stock in, had one very significant number. It showed Siegelman outpolling Baxley by a two-to-one margin among black voters.
If he runs that strong with African American voters, it could make the difference in this race.
As to the war in Iraq, 39.6 percent of the Alabamians polled said they supported the war; 51.6 percent said they did not. And remember, this is a state that went overwhelmingly for Bush in 2000 and 2004.
Bob Ingram's syndicated weekly political column appears in dozens of newspapers across Alabama. He is a native of Cherokee County.