Before leaving the Alabama runoffs behind, it’s worth a quick look at the results to examine the oft-repeated claim by gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne that Democrats were going to steal the nomination for Dr. Robert Bentley. That warning was based on two factors: efforts by Byrne’s nemesis, the Alabama Education Association, to encourage its members to vote against Byrne in the runoff; and the Alabama GOP’s unusual rule allowing Democratic primary voters–whose own gubernatorial nomination was settled on June 1–to vote in Republican runoffs
Since Bentley did in fact win (by a 56-44 margin), is there any hard evidence that Democrats lifted him to victory? No, not really.
Keep in mind that this is a very difficult hypothesis to test, particularly without precinct-level data, and particularly in a state without party registration. There was gossip on election day that cut in both directions. And without question, a big crossover was theoretically possible. The drop-off in Democratic turnout between the primary and the runoff (using an apples-to-apples comparison of the Attorney General’s race, the only statewide Democratic runoff) was 157,000 votes, and Bentley’s margin over Byrne was 56,000 votes. Yes, the Republican gubernatorial turnout dropped by 6% between the primary and the runoff, but it’s always possible it would have dropped much more without Democratic crossover votes.
When you look at county data, however, it’s clear there’s little or no relationship between Democratic and Republican turnout patterns, and thus little likelihood that the former determined the latter. Looking at some of the larger counties, Montgomery had a very high Democratic dropoff percentage of 82% (the statewide percentage was 57%), and Republican turnout dropped 6%, exactly the statewide average. Meanwhile, Jefferson County (Birmingham) had a relatively low Democratic dropoff percentage (31%), thanks to a number of local runoffs and the 7th district congressional runoff. But Republican turnout there dropped only 5%. Or look at Madison County (Huntsville), where there was one election-day media report of sizable crossover voting. The Democratic dropoff in Madison was a very high 90%. Yet Republican turnout dropped 17%, a lot more than the statewide average, and not what you’d expect if there was a big crossover vote. Byrne, BTW, carried all three of the counties we are talking about.
Another way to get at this issue is to look at what happened in heavily Republican counties. Check out St. Clair and Shelby Counties near Birmingham, both of which recently made the Daily Caller’s “most conservative-friendly counties” list. In both, 89% of primary voters on June 1 chose to cast a Republican ballot (the statewide average was 61%). In St. Clair, Bentley’s vote jumped by 2456 votes between the primary and the runoff (from 27% to 61%) The entire Democratic dropoff vote in the county was only 1165. So how did Bentley win? It certainly looks like he did a better job than Byrne in attracting the 52% of the primary vote that went to Tim James and Roy Moore. The same appears to be true in Shelby, where Bentley picked up 6185 votes and jumped from 27% to 52%. The entire Democratic dropoff vote was only 2803.
Looking at the converse situation, there’s Macon County, where 92% of primary voters chose Democratic ballots. If there was some coordinated Democratic crossover effort, you’d think it would show up there. In fact, the Democratic dropoff was an unusually low 19%, but still amounted to 716 votes. But Republican turnout went up by a grand total of 16 votes, and Byrne boosted his percentage from 28 to 45.
So perhaps the crossover vote happened to some degree, and perhaps it helped Bentley on the margins. But the evidence suggests he won by taking a comfortable majority of the James and Moore voters; it’s no accident that he won 57% of the vote in James’ home county (Butler) and 71% in Moore’s (Etowah). Had Democratic primary voters been banned from the GOP runoff, Bentley would have won anyway, it appears, and that’s without factoring in whatever profit Byrne derived from his ability to attack Bentley for being the intended beneficiary of Democratic shenanigans.