Reputation may sway voters in Senate election

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 13, 2004

REGION – The key questions voters will have to answer Tuesday when they head to the polls in the State Senate special election is one of reputation.

“Which one of them has the more substantial reputation that says to the people ‘I can more done for the district’ is question in this race,” said AUM political science professor Dr. D’Linell Finley.

Finley, who taught political science at Tuscaloosa’s University of Alabama for nine years, has been watching the unfolding special election between Thomas Moore, a Demopolis city councilman, and State. Rep. Bobby Singleton with keen interest.

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“You have to keep in mind that this district is in an area where people are going to be demanding results because it’s in one of the poor areas of the sate where you need some economic development, some health care, some educational opportunity, some infrastructure – all the things a poor district is lacking,” he said. “The Black Belt of West Alabama needs attention in all those critical areas.”

From Finley’s perspective, reputation and voter turnout are the key elements in the race, prompted by Charles Steele’s resignation from his third term in the post. Steele is now president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“The person who is going to be successful [in the race] must convince people he is the one who can make a difference in those areas,” he said.

And Finley believes that person will be Thomas Moore.

“Mr. Moore pretty much well has the endorsement of the ‘establishment’ organizations,” he said.

That “establishment” support is an indication that Moore’s reputation is as a stable leader.

“In this case, if you think the other person brings some liabilities – if you’re going to play it rather cautious and go with the person most likely to succeed in the Senate – the person who is endorsed shows that a tremendous amount confidence has been placed in him,” Finley said.

“Moore has the endorsement of the Business Council of Alabama along with some of the other mainstream groups and that tells me Mr. Moore has built a reputation over the years that he can get things accomplished,” he said. “The next senator is going to have to be pro-business, and the governor is pro-business, and it would be good to have someone representing the district who has demonstrated the ability to work with all the sides – it’s going to take business and government working with local officials in order to bring economic development and prosperity to the district. It’s going to take someone people can work with.”

As for Singleton, Finley said that while effective as a state representative in some respects, his reputation as an “activist” would work against Singleton.

“The voters have to look at it and then see if [the candidates] are practical with a look out for the economic future, or if they’re going to take a chance with a little unorthodoxy and see what that gets them,” he said. “It boils down to practical, common sense, traditional mainstream efforts to bring about economic prosperity versus the unorthodoxy and activism.”

That is, the voters who go to the polls.

“It is very tough to get people out for special elections and in those situations the perennial voter will make the difference – the handful of people who are going to turn out to vote regardless of what election and what the weather is doing. If a majority of those people are tied to the heavily endorsed candidate, that person will very likely win,” he said.

Still, Finley said those voters – absent many first-time voters who traditionally don’t show up in a special election – would amount to about 25 percent of the total number of voters.

“All the research indicates you’d be very lucky with a 25 percent turnout,” he said. “It’s a special election with pretty localized issues and there aren’t any emotional issues on the ballot, so the 25 percent turnout – and that’s optimistic – [perennial voters] are going to be very significant.”

Attempting to generate the voters both Moore and Singleton camps are working door-to-door campaigns.

Singleton told The Times his campaign was going well and that he “felt very confident” going into Tuesday’s election.

The Moore camp doesn’t seem to let feelings guide them. An organized get-out-the-vote campaign is underway.

Demopolis Mayor Cecil Williamson, whose own campaign used a telephone call out in its strategy, said the same system would be used for Moore on Sunday and Monday.

“We called for Thomas in the [first primary] and we’ve expanded to have about 40 people making calls to remind people to go to the polls Tuesday,” she said. “I think it makes a huge difference because it’s a reminder for people to go vote. For the amount of times people have been required to go to the polls this year, and because the date of Dec. 14 is such an obscure date for an election, any time we have an opportunity to remind people to go vote is an opportunity to get Thomas elected,”

But it won’t stop with a telephone call. Marengo County Commissioner Freddie Armstead has been active in Moore’s campaign from the start and believes the campaign needs a personal touch.

“It’s going to be very critical to get the people out and that means going door-to-door, picking them up and carrying them to the polls. In Marengo County we’re going to door-to-door telling them the importance of having a state senator who will work for all the people in the all the counties,” he said.

The message he’s carrying to voters: “We’re letting people know there is an election for the State Senate on Dec. 14 and if you’ve got other things planned that day, please work voting into those plans.”