HD 31: Mask/Whorton GOP Primary Preview
But before we can focus on the general election, a GOP nominee must emerge from today's primary. I discussed the race earlier in the process (focusing on the district, the candidates, and a private poll) and yesterday the Montgomery Advertiser had a final wrap up before the vote. Also if you're interested in policy, check out each candidates' guest piece in the Advertiser (including Democrat Payne) as well as the Wetumpka Herald's moderation of a quasi debate between the two Republicans.
There is little doubt that Elmore County Commissioner Don Whorton began the race as the frontrunner against economic development consultant Barry Mask. Whorton's two terms on the county commission gave him name recognition and political experience that Mask could not match. However, Whorton's tenure on the commission is not an unvarnished positive as he was forced to take controversial stands and developed more than a few detractors.
However, the short special election campaign (made even shorter by Christmas and New Years) left Mask's work cut out for him. Mask does seem to be well thought of with plenty of connections, both locally and in Montgomery, but raising his name ID to a sufficient level to win an election (70% or so) in such a short period is a difficult task.
The campaign has not been altogether uplifting either. Both candidates have run television advertising and conducted direct mailing. And Mask has accused the Whorton camp of "push polling", a political tactic akin to smearing your opponent under the guise of a traditional telephone poll. In this case Mask has taken umbrage that Whorton (or his allies) would label Mask a lobbyist.
This should be a relatively close race as Mask has no doubt closed the wide gap that existed when the race began. However, I don't believe Mask has accrued the financial edge many observers expected due to his close ties to some in Montgomery. I've been told that Whorton has been competitive with (if not actually ahead of) Mask in terms of television ad buys (the lifeblood of a campaign). I am skeptical that Mask has had enough time or money to sufficiently spread his name and message to the point where he can overtake Whorton, even considering Whorton's not inconsiderable weaknesses.
Special elections are incredibly volatile as voter turnout is usually abysmal. If one candidate can turn out their supporters at a slightly higher clip than their opponent, then that can make all the difference. Yet even though special elections are notoriously difficult to predict, as this is an elections site I feel obligated to weigh in.
I believe that if this had been a more traditional campaign then Mask might well have won, but given the unusual circumstances of this campaign, I don't think Mask had the time or means to make up the significant head start Whorton developed over several years in Elmore county politics.
Don Whorton -- 55%
Barry Mask -- 45%
Results should come in the late evening and I'll post them as soon as I can find them.