I delayed addressing the ramifications of Hurricane Katrina on Alabama's political landscape for a few days, in light of the carnage being inflicted upon the Gulf Coast. I urge all readers who are able to consider donating to the Red Cross to help assist the millions in need.
Yet, the political calendar does not stop because of natural disasters and two significant political events are only days away. Before the hurricane hit, tongues were wagging about Bob Riley's potential Labor Day campaign kickoff. Though he's long been considered a likely candidate, no word has actually escaped Riley's mouth of his re-election plans. Many expected that to change at his Labor Day Picnic. However, given the tragic circumstances left many Alabamians by Hurricane Katrina, I think Riley should push back his announcement. On a practical level, a delayed announcement gives Riley more time to focus on the aftermath of the hurricane and politically it would allow him to stay above the fray and flex his gubernatorial prestige. I haven't seen any plans for Riley to cancel his Labor Day party, but it would be appropriate (and politically smart) for Riley to spend the holiday doing all he can to aid the victims of this tragedy.
The second event waiting around the corner are the mayoral runoffs in Mobile and Tuscaloosa. Both cities received signficant damage from Katrina and are beginning the slow process of normalization. The hurricane arrived right in the middle of the runoff campaign and has naturally ground political proceedings to a halt. This part of a campaign often sees the most active, and often negative, campaigning. But how can a candidate campaign effectively when his city is in disarray and no one is focused on politics? He can't. These candidates must do what they can to assist their fellow citizens and hope that there is enough time after the worst is over to convey their campaign message. Generally, such a campaign stoppage would favor the front-runners, as the other candidates need all the time they can get to gain traction. Also, candidates who can boast of experience and competence might seem more attractive in the light of a natural disaster.
Specifically, in the Mobile mayor's race, the hurricane might have doomed any chance John Peavy had. Peavy needed a Herculean effort to overake Sam Jones' huge lead from the primary. This campaign freeze leaves Peavy right where he started and highlights Jones' extensive resume' of public service.
In Tuscaloosa, Sammy Watson led the primary, but Walt Maddox finished a strong second. This race is difficult to gauge, but Watson's lead in the primary and his status quo message probably leave him in good shape against Maddox's outsider message of change in this environment. I still don't have a feel for this race, but I do think Hurricane Katrina has made things a little tougher for Walt Maddox.