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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

In a major upset (the proportions as much as the results), Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks has defeated congressman Artur Davis for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Alabama. With 86% of the precincts reporting, Sparks is beating Davis by an amazing 63-37 margin. And while that margin will narrow somewhat as votes from Mobile and a few counties in Davis’ CD come in, it’s still quite a win for a guy who wasn’t considered competitive until late in the race.

The GOP race is a three-way barnburner, with Bradley Byrne, Tim James and Robert Bentley (the real surprise of the night) running virtually even. I’m reasonably sure Byrne will run first on the basis of the votes still out in Mobile, with James likely to finish a whisker ahead of Bentley based on the numbers he’s posted in counties with partial returns. Meanwhile, party-switching GOP congressman Parker Griffith appears to have lost his seat without a runoff to Mo Brooks, and sorry, aficionados of the weird, YouTube star Dale Peterson is not going to be Agriculture Commissioner.

Sparks seems to have beaten Davis by pulling a significant (perhaps 40% or more) minority of African-American voters while trouncing him among white voters. Sparks carried Jefferson County (Birmingham) handily, although Davis represents a big chunk of the county, and ran well even in majority-African-American counties in or near Davis’ district. The CW tomorrow will probably be that Davis thought far too much about positioning himself for the general election before concentrating on the primary, and that Sparks’ uncontested claim on endorsements by African-American political groups was a big deal after all. It didn’t hurt that the winner also got considerable help from the Alabama Education Association, the big dog in Alabama Democratic politics, and had a substantive issue–a state lottery–that’s always played well with Alabama Democrats, particularly black voters.

The surprise showing by Bentley on the Republican side probably reflects voter disgust with the nastiness of the Byrne-James competition, which will be ironic if the two antagonists wind up in a runoff. Meanwhile, Judge Roy Moore’s underfunded campaign left him in a disappointing fourth place (he’s currently at 19%, with a few of his base counties still out).

In other congressional races, a Democratic runoff’s certain in Davis’ 7th District,
with Terri Sewell facing either Sheila Smoot or Earl Hilliard, Jr., who are running neck and neck with quite a few precincts still out. In the 5th, Steve Maby easily dispatched Taze Shephard for the Democratic nomination. And in the 2d district Republican primary, Martha Roby is very close to the 50% she’d need to win without a runoff and take on Democratic incumbent Bobby Bright.

In the much-discussed Republican primary for Attorney General, Gov. Bob Riley’s endorsement of Luther Strange over incumbent Troy King seems to have had an impact; Strang, an opponent of public gaming, trounced King 60-40.

UPDATE (12:56 AM): With 97% of precincts reporting, Bradley Byrn has indeed parlayed a strong showing in Montgomery and Mobile Counties into one runoff spot, and Robert Bentley has a 240 vote lead over Tim James for the other. But of the 100 precincts still out, 77 are in Mobile County, where James is running ahead of Bentley by a 25-14 margin, and another 17 are in Cleburne County, a small northeast Alabama county where neither candidate is likely to get a significant plurality over the other. So I continue to think James will squeak past Bentley, though we could be into recount country.

In other late news, in the 7th CD Democratic race, Sheila Smoot has beat out Earl Hilliard, Jr., for a runoff position against Terri Sewell. And in the 2d District Republican primary, Martha Roby fell short of 50%, and will face Rick Barber in a runoff.

And over in Mississippi, Alan Nunnelee won the GOP nomination in the 1st CD without a runoff, and will face Democratic incumbent Travis Childers in November.

UPDATE II (1:43 AM) Lord a’ mercy. AP apparently made some earlier mistake in displaying votes from Mobile County, which has now reported its 77 missing precincts without a change in the candidate vote totals. So much for my assumption that Davis would narrow Sparks’ lead a bit, or that Tim James would overtake Robert Bentley. In the latter race, Bentley has a 140 vote lead with 21 precincts out, 17 of them in mysteriously silent Cleburne County. No telling where this race will wind up, other than in a recount.

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