I've been meaning to revisit the nascent GOP primary between Roy Moore and Bob Riley for a couple of weeks now. I've been extremely impressed by Moore's campaign thus far. While Riley has rightly been focusing on his gubernatorial dutues, Roy Moore has been driving the agenda that will determine who the GOP nominee will be.
Roy Moore has shrewdly refrained from focusing solely on the 10 Commandments case and instead has advocated several populist issues. While certainly not universally popular, Moore's campaign platform is much more developed and detailed than anything put forward by either Riley or the two leading Democrats.
For example, Moore's call for legislative sessions every other year (instead of the current system of annual sessions) forced his opponents to take a position on the otherwise off-the-radar issue. Similarly, Moore's call for term limits certainly has bipartisan appeal to those disgruntled with the "politics as usual" approach. Moore is trying (fairly effectively thus far) to transition from being solely identified with his religious stands to a conservative leaning populist platform that casts himself as the disaffected everyman trying to return state government to the average Alabamian.
But the master stroke of Moore's campaign thus far is his framing of the tax appraisal issue. Riley's contention that the yearly appraisal is required by state law leaving nothing the governor's office can do to remedy it may be legally correct. But focusing solely on the political implications of the appraisal issue, Roy Moore seems to have Bob Riley right where he wants him.
The beauty of Moore's tactic is that it both forces Riley into the untenable "pro-tax" position, and inevitably reminds Republicans about the Amendment One debacle. Indeed, Riley's resurgence is largely due to recent events overshadowing his 2003 tax package defeat. But Moore has not only found a way to resurrect the issue of Riley's past proposed tax increases, but also has cast Riley as a current and consistent "pro-tax" governor.
The success of Moore's tactics are proven by the unlikely support Don Siegelman, who joins Moore in attacking both Riley's position as well as the governor's rationale behind it ("That is just hogwash,").
Riley obviously does not have the luxury of a full-time focus on the campaign unlike his primary opponent. But Moore's campaign has shown surprising shrewdness and skill and has successfully bested the governor in the campaign's first battle. Fortunately for Riley, the first votes are still 8 months away, but the governor can not let Moore continue to dictate the terms of the debate if he expects to be re-elected.