Why Roy Moore Might Lose
This is Roy Moore's first foray into high profile elective politics. Sure, Moore beat Harold See in a nasty GOP primary, but do voters really put much thought into their votes for Chief Justice? Certainly even Moore supporters would admit that a race for governor is a whole different ballgame than Moore has played in the past.
First of all, Moore is taking on an incumbent. Even though Moore has often been anti-establishment, this will mark his first time to run against an incumbent. Of course Bob Riley has had some rough patches in his first term and a vocal segment of his conservative base has never forgiven him for his failed tax package in 2003. However, over two and a half years will have passed between the vote on Amendment 1 and the 2006 Republican primary. Many Republicans were quick to forgive Riley and those that weren't have had a longtime to forget.
It is still too soon to know whether the surge in Riley's popularity after Hurricane Katrina is permanent or only a temporary phenomenon. But Riley's poll ratings are at their highest point since the Amendment 1 debacle. But more than just the approval ratings, the hurricane has burnished Riley's image as a capable and effective manager of the state in times of crisis. Even Moore's own supporters would probably acknowledge that he has previously been more interested in articulating a message than in actually administering government. Indeed, Moore foes have been critical of his stewardship of the state court system during his tenure as Chief Justice. The public image of Moore as a show horse (rather than a work horse) could be tough for Moore to shake. And such an image could be politically fatal against an accomplished incumbent like Riley as the devastation from the recent hurricanes lingers in voters' minds.
More practically though, Roy Moore is assured to be at a financial disadvantage throughout the campaign. The Riley camp will have flush coffers with the support from the business community that Moore will not be able to match. I'd expect national GOP support (in the form of the Republican Governor's Association and others) to find their way to Riley as well. I doubt that national GOP leaders want to have an emboldened and empowered Roy Moore as a powerbroker in national Republican politics going into the presidential campaign of 2008 and beyond. I expect to see a concerted effort by the Alabama establishment, as well as the national Republican leadership, and their allies to prevent a Moore administration.
Additionally, in terms of raw votes, just as a Moore candidacy will bring many of his supporters to the polls it will also energize Moore opponents to vote in the Republican primary. The antipathy that many Democrats and liberals have for Moore is much stronger than their allegiance to their party's primary. I am sure that Riley will be the beneficiary of many liberal crossover votes attempting to quell the Moore movement before it advances to the general election. The Democratic gubernatorial primary is still largely out of focus, but if Lucy Baxley runs a smart race and Don Siegelman's campaign continues to be dogged by federal prosecutors then the Democratic nominee might very well be obvious well before the June primary. A noncompetitive Democratic primary will free up Democrats to weigh in on the GOP nomination. And while Moore certainly has enjoyed the support of some Democrats in the past, a Democratic crossover vote en masse would almost certainly benefit Riley.
Finally, there is the distinct possibility that Bob Riley will be able to run to the right of Roy Moore on several issues. Roy Moore and his political allies have recently enjoyed the support of many in the trial lawyer community. If Bob Riley can successfully portray Moore as a tool of Jere Beasley and his trial lawyer pals, then many conservatives might have second thoughts about Moore. Also Moore's Republican party ties can easily be questioned. Moore has flirted with the Constitution Party in the past few years to the point where some in the GOP have pondered challenging Moore's credentials and not letting him run as a Republican. That effort was squelched, but there are serious questions among many Republicans of Moore's partisan loyalties. If the GOP primary revolves around who has been the "best" Republican, then Bob Riley should win in a walk.
Roy Moore is probably the opponent Bob Riley feared the most. Moore brings universal name recognition, a loyal base, and an identifiable issue into the primary. However, Bob Riley will have the advantages of incumbency, money, and stability in his re-election bid.
I'll wait and see what Riley says in his assumed announcement on Saturday, but Bob Riley has plenty of ammunition with which to fight back against the coming Moore crusade.