Bob Riley is doing his best to undercut a Republican candidate that the GOP establishment had previously supported.
After Nelson Starkey announced his intention to make this his last term, attorney William E. Smith was courted by Republicans at both the local and state level to switch his party allegiance (Smith had been a Democrat until very recently) and run for Starkey's open seat.
At some point between Smith's announcement and the untimely death of Starkey necessitating a special election, GOP strategists soured on Smith's candidacy. I am not sure if it's money woes, personality conflicts, or some other variable, but GOP leaders obviously don't think Smith can beat Democrat Tammy Irons.
With the filing deadline a little over a week away, Republicans are scrambling to find a candidate who can force Democrats to have to at least fight for the seat. The two individuals publicly identified as targets are ex Lauderdale DA Billy Jackson and Steve Pierce, a former Florence city councilman. Neither man has jumped into the race yet, but both have left the door open for a run.
Pierce is the one candidate who seems like he might have the potential to disrupt the coronation of Tammy Irons. In the 2002 Democratic primary against Nelson Starkey, Pierce won more than 47% of the vote. Though he's now switched to the GOP, Pierce has a demonstrated ability to attract Democratic votes. Billy Jackson might be a stronger candidate than Smith, but he is fresh off a 2004 loss to current DA Chris Connolly. Jackson's tenure as DA was due only to his appointment by Riley to succeed the previous DA who retired mid-term. If Jackson can't win running as the incumbent countywide in the boon Republican year of 2004, then I am skeptical of his ability to win as a special election race as a challenger in a house district more Democratic than the county as a whole.
It'll be interesting to keep an eye on this soap opera. If you want to follow the ins and outs of this special election, read Daily Times writer Todd Twilley. He's providing good local coverage of this race.