The November election that put Republican David Cole in the Alabama House of Representatives was one of the most competitive in the state with Democrat Marilyn Lands earning 45% of the votes to Cole’s nearly 52%.
Cole vacated the House District 10 seat in Madison County last month in a felony plea deal. Whether a special election is as competitive as last year’s will likely largely depend on the candidate the GOP backs and voter turnout.
Jess Brown, a retired Athens State University political science professor said HD10 is still Republican leaning.
“But the key to 2022 was that Democrats simply had a candidate with a wide network of friends and contacts in the district,” Brown said. “Marilyn Lands had roots in the district.”
Cole didn’t have those roots or prior civic experience, Brown said.
Lands did not return requests for comment for this article.
Brown said that even if she runs again — and Democrats would be foolish not to nominate her — and the party provides resources for a strong get-out-the-vote campaign, they may not have the luxury of a GOP newcomer and novice on the ballot.
“My guess is that Republicans will field a stronger candidate,” Brown said. “You’re not going to have the same landscape that you had in 2022.”
Cole resigned his seat last week after entering a plea deal on a felony voter fraud charge. His residency had been in question since before the November election when he ran for the open House seat and had been the subject of both a party and court challenge.
Cole’s wasn’t the only controversy in that race. The ALGOP kicked Anson Knowles off the primary ballot in February because of his previous activity in the Libertarian Party. He won’t be seeking the seat this year. Knowles said he is again active in the Libertarian Party in Madison County doing candidate training.
“I tried running as a Republican and the Republicans didn’t want me,” Knowles told ADN recently.
Libertarian Elijah Boyd received about 3% of the vote in November and said he’s considering running again.
“A special election does have benefits especially for third-party candidates in that we are not affected by any drama at the national level of party politics,” Boyd said. He also thinks a special election removed the impact of straight-ticket voting. Bigger races up the ballot generally benefit Republicans down the ballot.
“We don’t have a chance to reach people if they’re just going to punch one button,” he said.
But a single-race election will also reduce turnout, Brown said. Special elections have lower turnout than those in regular cycles.
“When the turnout drops, generally speaking, you’re more likely to have Democrats not show up than Republicans,” Brown said.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday said the special election primary will be Dec. 12. A primary runoff, if needed, will be Jan. 9 and the general election will be March 26.
The 2024 legislative session starts Feb. 6.
“I encourage everyone in this district to get out and vote during this special election to ensure you have a strong voice advocating for you in the Alabama Legislature,” Ivey said in a written statement.