The strategy received its first test last week when Republican Greg Albritton and Democrat Marc Keahey faced each other in a special election to fill the District 22 state Senate seat left vacant when seven-term Sen. Pat Lindsey, D-Butler, died early this year.
Prospects looked good for the GOP, as Mobile's Press-Register reported Saturday. Although Republicans took a beating in that district in 2006, they had missed unseating Lindsey in 2002 by less than 1,000 votes; for a while, all three representatives belonged to the GOP. Moreover, the district contains Baldwin County, a rapidly growing Republican stronghold, and if those voters went to the polls, everyone figured Albritton had a good chance.
The key, of course, was voter turnout. Both sides spent a lot of money trying to inspire their faithful.
Relying on consultants who advised candidates to reach voters through TV ads and direct mailings, both sides put their money and their efforts there. So it followed that the one with the most money would be the one who would get the most attention.
Despite the Campaign 2010 effort, the one with the most money was the Democratic candidate.
The $100,000 put into Albritton's coffers by the GOP could not match what Democrat Keahey raised. Even with money from the Business Council of Alabama and other Republican sources, Albritton had only $251,000 to spend, where Keahey had more than twice that much.
Keahey won. Handily.
Traditional Democratic supporters — the Alabama Education Association and the Alabama Association for Justice (trial lawyers) — contributed big, as did legalized bingo advocates Milton McGregor and country singer Ronnie Gilley.
In this case, money clearly matters. Keahey had more, and Keahey won.
Conclusion? If Campaign 2010 expects to be successful, Republican supporters need to get out their checkbooks.
But maybe money is not everything. In District 22, small, weekly newspapers — the traditional vehicle by which candidates appeal to voters — complained of how few political ads the parties were running. Although the people who read local papers also are the people most likely to go to the polls, neither candidate made these voters their target audience.
How much more successful might Albritton have been in counties such as Clarke, Choctaw and Washington if the GOP had put its money into local advertisements rather than trying to beat the Democrats at their own game.
When Republicans revisit their strategy in this election, it would do well for them to consider making better use of more conventional methods, namely the local press.
Democrats might want to do the same.