By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who became the state’s governor last year when her predecessor resigned in a cloud of scandal, was elected to a full term on Tuesday after running a campaign that emphasized the state’s recovering economy and restoring trust to state government.
Ivey, 74, defeated Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox as she and other Republicans dashed Democrats’ hopes of making gains in the deeply red state. Republicans swept all statewide offices and contested congressional seats and unofficial returns showed Ivey capturing almost 60 percent of the vote in the gubernatorial contest.
Ivey is the state’s second female governor and the first Republican woman elected to the position. In her victory speech, she thanked supporters for helping her campaign make history.
“The people of Alabama have spoken today loud and clear, and we want to keep Alabama on the right track and keep Alabama working,” Ivey told cheering supporters.
“It is with immense gratitude that I stand before you tonight as the next governor of Alabama. I am ever so grateful for your steadfast support, your prayers and your votes. Folks, tonight, today together we have made history,” Ivey said.
The Republican Ivey, who had been lieutenant governor, became governor 19 months ago when then-Gov. Robert Bentley suddenly resigned in the midst of an impeachment investigation partly centered on his relationship with an aide.
In her trademark drawl, Ivey had told voters throughout the campaign that she had “steadied the ship of state.” Her campaign ads emphasized the state’s record low unemployment and growing economy, while highlighting the governor’s folksy no-nonsense demeanor. She also emphasized her opposition to abortion and support of gun rights.
After years of holding no statewide offices, Democrats had hoped to build on last year’s election of Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate. But they faced an uphill battle in a state dominated by Republicans.
Maddox ran on a campaign on establishing a state lottery to fund college scholarships as well as expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The Democratic challenger framed the race as a choice between politicians who are content with the state’s low rankings in education, health care and other indicators and those who think it could be better.
The Tuscaloosa mayor in his concession speech offered his support to Ivey. He told supporters they started a conversation about the state’s future that he hoped would continue.
“You have talked about things in this state that have dared not been spoken, whether it was about race, whether it was about hospitals closing, whether it was about addressing poverty, whether it was trying to figure out what we do to address our schools that are not performing,” Maddox said.
“We have started a discussion that is not going to end with the results tonight. That is our victory,” Maddox said.
As the presumed front-runner in the red state, Ivey had refused to debate Maddox, as well as her GOP primary opponents, a move that led her challengers to accuse her of hiding from voters.
Ivey also faced indirect questions about her health as well as an accusation that she tried to cover up a health incident during a 2015 trip to Colorado and retaliated against the state trooper traveling with her for telling his superiors. Ivey denied the accusations and said she was hospitalized for altitude sickness and released a letter from her doctor saying she was a low risk for a cardiovascular event.
Ivey took a slight jab at her opponents in her victory speech, noting that some claimed she would never make it across the finish line or was “on her last breath.”
Ivey said she not only finished, but “finished very strong and I am just now getting started.”
Mary Anne Martin, 73, voted for Ivey. Martin, who has worked in children’s advocacy, said she liked that Ivey has had a scandal-free administration.
“We’ve had so many scandals in this state,” Martin said.
“She is very hard-working. We haven’t seen any scandals.”