Alabama Governor Race Faces Major Challenges

One of the candidates in Alabama's gubernatorial primaries Tuesday is a former governor whose campaigning is limited because he's on trial on corruption charges. Another is the "Ten Commandments judge" who was booted from the Supreme Court for ignoring a federal court order.

On the Democratic side, former Gov. Don Siegelman has spent the last five weeks in federal court facing racketeering and bribery charges — and likely will be there on election day, too — while his main opponent, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, has been campaigning around the state. Polls show Baxley beginning to pull away from Siegelman after they initially ran close.

On the Republican side, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is staging his first political race since getting expelled from office in November 2003. A state judicial court ousted Moore because he refused to obey a federal court order to remove his granite monument of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building.

Recent polls have shown Moore trailing incumbentGov. Bob Riley by a 2-to-1 margin.

Moore and Siegelman may be suffering from the same effect, said Jeff Norrell, an expert in Southern political history at the University of Tennessee.

"I suspect that doubts about their respect for the law are hurting both Siegelman and Moore among some voters who otherwise would look on them favorably," he said.

Secretary of State Nancy Worley expects turnout to be a little above normal, with 40 to 45 percent of Alabama's 2.4 million registered voters going to the polls. But she said turnout will be driven by hot county races rather than the top of the ticket.

Alabamians also will vote Tuesday on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages. All four major candidates for governor support it and the proposal has not been a factor in the race.

Siegelman lost to Riley in 2002 by only 3,120 votes out of 1.3 million cast. He's focusing on the same issue he used then: creating a lottery to raise money for education.

This time around, though, Siegelman has had to use courthouse interviews to promote his candidacy.

"I've never heard of anybody seeking a party nomination and being on trial at the same time," said Merle Black, an expert in Southern politics at Emory University in Atlanta.

Siegelman has blamed his legal problems on Republicans, who he says are trying to ruin his political career.

"Siegelman's trial has sucked the air out of the Democratic campaign, and it's made it hard for Baxley to get attention," said David Lanoue, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama.

Baxley, Alabama's first female lieutenant governor, is trying to become the state's second female governor. The first, Lurleen Wallace, was elected in 1966 as a stand-in for her husband, Gov. George C. Wallace.

"There is no one who knows me who thinks I'm a stand-in for anyone," Baxley said.

In 2001, Moore unveiled his 5,300-pound Ten Commandments monument in the state judicial building, then defied federal court orders saying it violated the principle of separation of church and state.

However, Moore says that he won't return his monument to Montgomery if elected governor.

Riley, who talks openly about his Christian beliefs and holds Bible studies with staff members, has fared well with the religious right.

His recent legislative successes, including a $60 million income tax cut for working class families, have shored up his public support, said Black and Larry Powell, a communications professor and pollster at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

"Riley is conservative enough in terms of religion and progressive enough on economic growth that he can have a broad appeal," Black said.

Lanoue said Moore hasn't been able to extend his appeal beyond the religious right.

"He got typecast as the Ten Commandments judge," Lanoue said.