In Alabama, Gubernatorial Primary Sets Stage for a GOP Rematch

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The outspoken school prayer proponent who is Alabama's incumbent governor hit at least a temporary roadblock last week in his quest to serve a second consecutive term in office.

Gov. Fob James

Because he failed to muster 50 percent of the vote in his party's five-way gubernatorial primary June 2, Gov. Fob James Jr. must face challenger Winton Blount in a runoff election June 30.

Mr. James, who has attracted wide attention for urging others to ignore federal court orders barring school prayer, won 48 percent of the Republican vote, while Mr. Blount, a businessman from Montgomery, captured 41 percent. Many of the remaining votes were cast for former Gov. Guy Hunt, who entered the race late.

Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman handily won the Democratic nomination with 79 percent of the vote. In campaign speeches, Mr. Siegelman has indicated support for creating a state lottery system that would benefit public schools.

Mr. James led the effort to revamp the state's funding formula in 1995 and signed off on a $349 million education bond issue, the state's largest to date, this year.

But with school funding still at a level many call inadequate, Mr. James has held fast to his campaign promise of not raising state taxes. Mr. Blount, who is viewed as a moderate by comparison, has not publicly ruled out the possibility of instituting new taxes.

Gov. James expects in the runoff to win a majority of the votes cast for Mr. Hunt and other GOP candidates last week, said Dan Reynolds, a volunteer with Mr. James' re-election campaign.

"The heavy majority of the grassroots, rural vote will go to the governor," Mr. Reynolds predicted.

But a spokesman for the Blount campaign confirmed late last week that the former governor had endorsed Mr. Blount.

California, Other States

Meanwhile, across the country, in California's first "blanket" gubernatorial primary, voters picked Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat and career politician, to square off in November against state Attorney General Daniel E. Lungren, a Republican and former U.S. representative from Long Beach, Calif.

On the education front, Mr. Davis wants parents to sign contracts with their children's schools to commit them to helping with homework. Mr. Lungren, who faced no serious GOP challenger, has pledged to back state academic standards and the ongoing push--championed by retiring Republican Gov. Pete Wilson--to lower classroom sizes in the early grades. Mr. Lungren also favors publicly financed vouchers that could be used at private schools, an idea that Mr. Davis opposes.

In what many saw as a vote against big money, Mr. Davis spent only about $9 million to win a primary victory with 58 percent of the votes cast for Democrats. By comparison, his closest challenger, airline tycoon Al Checci, spent about $30 million in capturing 21 percent of the primary's Democratic votes. Democratic U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, who also outspent Mr. Davis, finished third among the Democrats, with 20 percent of those votes.

Gov. Wilson is barred by law from seeking a third term. About 38 percent of California's 14.6 million registered voters cast ballots.

Also last week, in Iowa, state Sen. Tom Vilsack edged out former state supreme court Justice Mark McCormick to win the Democratic nomination for the post being vacated by four-term GOP Gov. Terry E. Branstad, the current chairman of Education Commission of the States and the nation's longest-serving governor. Mr. Vilsack won the nomination with 51 percent of the primary vote.

Republican Jim Ross Lightfoot, a former member of the U.S. House, won his party's nomination easily, with 70 percent of the vote.

Neither candidate so far has taken a public stand on education issues during the campaign, but school groups will be inclined to back candidates willing to protect local control of districts, said Ronald M. Rice, the executive director of the Iowa Association of School Boards.

Former Mayor Martin Chavez of Albuquerque, N.M., won the six-way contest for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in his state, earning the opportunity to face Republican Gov. Gary E. Johnson in November.

And, in South Dakota, incumbent Republican Gov. William J. Janklow and Democratic state Sen. Bernie Hunhoff were unopposed in their state's primary elections.

Vol. 17, Issue 39, Page 17

Published in Print: June 10, 1998, as In Alabama, Gubernatorial Primary Sets Stage for a GOP Rematch
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  • Read the vote totals in the state's governor's race, from the California Secretary of State's Office.
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