Bama Border Wars
However, there are signs that illegal immigration is about to emerge as a defining issue.
The recent court decision granting lifetime workers' compensation to a 17 year old illegal immigrant injured in a work related fall in Birmingham looks to have all the ingredients for a political backlash. Though the court's ruling may very well be consistent with the law, there is at least a surface level contradiction that an individual in the country illegally could be "rewarded" by the American judicial system.
If there is a conservative backlash against this decision, Governor Riley could be in a pickle. The business community, which Riley counts among his most ardent allies, relies on cheap labor provided by illegal immigrants. However, such a rationale is most likely an affront to many conservatives voters culturally offended by the rising immigrant population. Even JeffCO suburbs like Hoover have show recent predilections toward anti-illegal immigration fervor.
In short this decision gives Roy Moore more ammunition with which to pry suburban voters from the Riley camp.
However, Riley seems sensitive to the political realities of the issue as he recently publicized a state effort (in cooperation with the Federal Department of Homeland Security) to use state troopers to target illegal immigration. Gestures like these are smart politics, but Riley will have to do more than the occasional press conference to stay on top of the issue.
Anti-illegal immigration sentiment seems to be growing by the day, especially (but certainly not limited to) among conservatives. The passivity of Republican-dominated Washington to substantively address the issue only leads to many voters being more open to unorthodox candidates. Even if Bob Riley and Roy Moore take basically the same position on illegal immigration (against it), many voters are likely to see Moore as the more likely change agent than the establishment inclined incumbent governor.
I don't think the Democrats will be off the hook on the issue either. There is simply not much of a constituency in Alabama for a status quo approach on illegal immigration.
The governor's race has long been expected to revolve around taxes and religion and while those issues will no doubt influence the outcome, don't be surprised if illegal immigration is ultimately the driving issue of the 06 campaign.