Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Roy Moore's unsuccessful fight to display the Ten Commandments and keep his job as Alabama's chief justice made him a national hero to religious conservatives in 2003.
But Moore isn't getting treated like a hero in his return to politics in Alabama in 2006.
He trails Gov. Bob Riley by a 2-to-1 margin in the polls and an even wider margin in fundraising as they head toward the Republican primary for governor on June 6.
On the Democratic side, former Gov. Don Siegelman and Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley are running even in the polls despite the legal troubles of Siegelman, who goes on trial Monday on racketeering charges accusing him of swapping political favors for gifts and campaign donations.
"There's nothing like Alabama politics," said Ferrel Guillory, an expert in Southern politics at the University of North Carolina.
"In the Republican primary, you've got this contentious, polarizing figure, Roy Moore, who has made Riley look better in comparison. And in the Democratic primary, you've got a former governor, who on the eve of being put on trial, is in contention," Guillory said.
Moore became a national figure when, shortly after becoming Alabama's chief justice in 2001, he had a granite monument of the Ten Commandments installed in the state judicial building.
In 2003, a federal judge ordered him to remove the monument. Moore refused, and a state judicial court kicked him out of office.
Riley, who narrowly defeated Siegelman in 2002, supported Moore until he refused to obey the federal court order. Political experts and pollsters said Riley wasn't the only one who thought Moore went too far.
"He stepped on - if not over - one of those imperceptible lines in American life," Guillory said.
The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition in Washington, D.C., and a good friend of Moore's, said he believes Moore's support is stronger than the polls indicate.
"He seems to have strong grass-roots support that doesn't poll strongly," he said.
Mahoney said Moore's character also impacts how well he campaigns. For instance, in February, Mahoney and several other religious leaders toured nine rural Alabama Baptist churches burned by arsonists, but Moore declined an invitation to join them - even though Riley and other candidates for public offices had already visited the churches.
"Chief Justice Moore said he did not want to be viewed as taking advantage of the tragedy of the church burnings and make it look like a photo opportunity," Mahoney said. "His character is sometimes at odds with what's involved in a campaign."
Moore has criticized Riley for taking campaign donations from political action committees supported by businessmen who received $50 million in state industrial incentives. Moore says it's a sign of how Riley has become part of what's wrong with Montgomery politics.
"Your government is not controlled by the people. It is controlled by special interest lobbyists," Moore said.
Despite that criticism, the primary contest between Moore and Riley has not turned into a classic battle between the GOP's religious right and business factions, as some had predicted a year ago. Riley has been able to hang on to the business support he enjoyed in 2002, and, as a governor who holds weekly Bible studies with his staff, has been able to garner support among religious conservatives.
"Roy Moore is not catching on. He's still viewed as a one-note song," said Jess Brown, a political scientist at Athens State University.
Riley also has been helped by a strong upturn in the state's economy - unemployment dropped to a record low of 3.3 percent in March.
"That's going to help the incumbent," said Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who studies Southern politics.
Moore has criticized Riley's 2003 proposal for a $1.2 billion tax hike, which voters rejected 2-1. But with the economy on a roll and state revenues up significantly, Riley is now campaigning as a tax-cutter: He worked with the Legislature this spring to cut the state income tax on the working poor and end Alabama's dubious distinction of being the only state where a family of four earning less than $10,000 had to pay an income tax.
On the Democratic side, Siegelman has spent many days in court hearings and has campaigned at night. He tells audiences that an investigation begun by a Republican-appointed U.S. attorney whose husband helped in Riley's 2002 campaign is designed to ruin his comeback.
"This case is not about a conviction. This is about the 2006 governor's race," he says at each campaign stop.
Federal prosecutors say there's no politics involved, but political experts say some voters, particularly black voters who have long supported Siegelman, share his suspicions.
"They are going to come out and vote for him heavily," said Larry Powell, a longtime pollster and communication studies professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Joe Reed, chairman of the black wing of the Alabama Democratic Party, has urged black voters to be cautious about supporting Siegelman.
"I'm a political realist. If you are governor and don't have these problems and you can't keep the office, how are you going to take it back with all these problems? I hope he's found innocent, but he can't win it," Reed said.
Baxley, Alabama's first female lieutenant governor, has relied on a catchy "I Love Lucy" campaign slogan, but has not put out a full-fledged campaign platform.
"The strategy she's put forward - that the path to be governor is to have a generalized message of milk toast - is a strategy she may regret," Brown said.
Baxley complains that she's been overlooked by news media focused on Siegelman's legal problems and Riley's recent performance in the Legislature.
"Whatever time was available to cover the governor's race has been filled by the governor and former governor," she said.
Siegelman, who is standing trial with two former Cabinet members and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, is optimistic his trial will end before the primary. The judge has told jurors to prepare for up to six weeks, which means a verdict would come after the primary.
A guilty verdict before the primary would end Siegelman's campaign. An acquittal would boost his chances in the eyes of political experts.
"Everything depends on what happens in that courtroom," Guillory said.
The winners of the primary elections will advance to the general election Nov. 7, where they will be joined by the Libertarian Party's nominee, U.S. Marijuana Party founder Loretta Nall, provided she finishes collecting enough signatures to get on the ballot.
If I do get on the ballot this election will wind up being a real horse race. A bigger one than even the seasoned political junkies have imagined thus far. Here's why;
If Riley gets the Republican nomination (and it's looking that way)then that leaves me as the only fiscal conservative in this race that the supporters he angered with his "Cause Jesus told me to" tax increase proposal, could vote for.
Between Baxley and Siegelman...wow...is this really the very best that the Democratic party can do? No wonder they keep getting their asses kicked every election. They need new leadership.
Whoever told Lucy that refusing to take a stand on anything was a great way to win this race should be FIRED IMMEDIATELY. Geezus!
Don Siegelman proved today that he is still a crook and apparently has no original ideas of his own when he added my bio-diesel plank to his platform...right down to how it could help the impoverished Black Belt of Alabama. Guess he must have watched my speech to the VFW. Hope he liked what he saw.
My feeling is that Lucy will get the Democratic nomination because of Don's legal troubles. Without the legal troubles I think Don would run away with the Democratic nomination. That being her sole reason for securing the nomination leaves her weak and injured.
Ultimately, assuming I do get ballot access, this race will come down to one between Gov. Bob Riley and yours truly.
Print, fill out and mail this ballot access petition to the address listed on the petition. Help me make this an Alabama election to remember.