MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Incumbent Republican Robert Bentley and Democrat Parker Griffith easily won their party's nominations for Alabama governor Tuesday night and will face off in a general election that promises to be more challenging.
With 85 percent of the precincts reporting from the primary election, Bentley got 89 percent of the vote, former Morgan County Commissioner Stacy George got 6 percent and retired Scottsboro businessman Bob Starkey got 5 percent. Griffith, a former congressman from Huntsville, won the Democratic nomination with 64 percent of the vote against 36 percent for Fayette businessman Kevin Bass.
Bentley and Griffith are both physicians and both 71, but they differ on many issues. They also differ in fundraising. Bentley has raised about $4 million, while Griffith has taken in $20,000 in contributions.
Bentley celebrated his victory at a ballroom inside Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, the same place he observed his 2010 victory. He said his strong vote stems from his keeping his 2010 promises to not raise taxes, to recruit jobs that lower the unemployment rate, and to streamline government.
"The people trust me, and I appreciate that," Bentley said in a phone interview.
"He seems like a good man who works for Alabama really hard," said Annell Green, a 73-year-old Montgomery business owner.
Bentley, a former state representative, was elected in 2010 on a jobs creation platform, including not taking a paycheck until unemployment drops to 5.2 percent. He campaigned for a second term by pointing to an unemployment rate that has fallen from 9.1 percent when he took office in January 2011 to 6.9 percent in April. He also cited new industries recruited to the state, including a Chinese-owned copper tubing plant that was the first major industry to locate in poor Wilcox County in 45 years.
Air Force retiree James Green, 70, of Montgomery said he voted for Bentley because of his job creation efforts, particularly the GD Copper Tubing plant in west Alabama. "He's focused his energy in west Alabama, which is the poor part of the state," Green said.
Bentley said he only got 20 percent of the vote in Wilcox County in 2010, but that didn't matter. "I've tried to be color blind and not do anything on a partisan level," he said.
Griffith said he plans to focus on Bentley's economic record, including pointing out that Alabama is the only state that has seen unemployment increase in the last 12 months. "We are going to put Alabama back on a track to compete nationally and internationally for jobs," he said.
Griffith was elected to Congress in 2008 as a Democrat. He switched parties and lost his re-election bid in 2010. He rejoined the Democratic Party to run for governor and got the endorsement of the party's black wing, the Alabama Democratic Conference. He said that unlike Bentley, he will push for creation of an education lottery like Georgia, Tennessee and Florida and for expansion of the state Medicaid program under the federal health care law.
"I believe Alabama will respond to it," he said in a phone interview.
Bentley said he will focus his general election ads on his record, like he did in the primary. "I don't like negative ads," he said.
He said that even though he disagrees with many of President Barack Obama policies, he won't talk about him like many Republican candidates did in their primary campaign ads.
"I'm not running against him. Everybody else was," he said.