By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, September 14, 2016, a pitiful 4008 people showed up to vote in the Alabama House District 79 Republican Primary. Those voters elected realtor Joseph “Joe” Lovvorn to the Alabama House of Representatives. Lovvorn narrowly won without a runoff between himself and businessman Sandy Toomer by just 13 votes.
On Tuesday, according to original reporting by WSFA Channel 12 in Montgomery, Lovvorn had just a 50.8 percent lead (we and WSFA reported that yesterday as 51 percent after rounding up. The final numbers provided by the Alabama Republican Party on Wednesday showed a distinct tightening.
The memo from ALGOP read:
“Results of the special election:
Joe Lovvorn: 2017 (50.32 percent)
Sandy Toomer: 1059 (26.42 percent)
Brett Smith: 501 (12.50 percent)
Jay Conner: 431 (10.75 percent)
Joe Lovvorn will be the Alabama Republican House District 79 certified candidate. There will be no runoff.”
Former Libertarian candidate for Alabama Governor, John Sophocleus asked the Alabama Political Reporter on social media: “At one time wasn’t there was threshold for small margins to automatically trigger recount verification by State law?”
Veteran Republican political consultant Trey Edwards also asked, “Would this be grounds for an automatic recount since he was within .5 percent of getting into a runoff?”
The answer was provided by former Secretary of State Chief of Staff Adam Thompson, who reminded us that, “”Automatic recounts are only in the General Election. The primary a candidate would have to ask for it.” Thompson added, “In the 2010 recount the counties charged the requestor, James, for the cost of the recount. It was the first time it had happened in a primary. I think the official request has to be made to the Republican Party though, since it’s a party election if memory serves.” Thompson served under Sec. of States James Bennett, John Merrill, and Beth Chapman.
For those who need a memory refresher, in 2010 five GOP candidates sought the Governor’s spot. Then former State Senator and two year college head Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) was the early favorite; but he had angered the powerful Executive Secretary of the Alabama Education Association (AEA) Paul Hubbert, who was determined to prevent the brash Byrne from becoming Governor. Businessman Tim James and then former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore divided the conservative vote. Then State Representative Robert Bentley (R-Tuscaloosa) was running as a dark horse. Hubbert meanwhile poured $millions into a crass campaign to tear down Byrne. It appeared that Byrne and James would meet in a Republican runoff but AEA get out the vote efforts brought many moderate and even liberal voters to the polls to defeat Byrne that normally would not be participating in a GOP Primary. Those anti-Byrne moderates tended to drift to the affable doctor from Tuscaloosa versus the more conservative James and Moore. When the votes were totaled Byrne had made the runoff but his opponent was Bentley……over James by the tiniest of margins.
Tim James, the son of former Governor Fob James (R), demanded a recount. The Republican Party had no interest in paying for any recount and the state balked at the idea. James agreed to pay the counties but ultimately the recount changed nothing. Bentley defeated Byrne and went on to become Governor. Ironically the AEA had blown their campaign budget in their feud with Byrne and their Democratic allies in the legislature were crushed by Alabama Republicans led by then ALGOP Chairman Mike Hubbard in the November 2010 elections.
A precedent however was set that reared its head on Wednesday.
Sandy Toomer theoretically could have asked the Alabama Republican Party for a recount of the vote: but neither the party nor the state was going to pay for that and the candidate (who had already been mightily outspent by Lovvorn) likely would have been billed by Lee County for the cost of the recount.
Sandy Toomer confirmed to the Alabama Political Reporter that he could not afford to spend more money on a recount that likely would go to court and likely would not produce the desired runoff, which he had no budget for anyway.
Joe Lovvorn meanwhile rolled the famous oak trees on Toomer’s Corner in Auburn.
Sandy Toomer said in a statement on social media, “Joe Lovvorn missed a run off with me by just 13 votes according to ALGOP official numbers. 13 votes. Not a mandate or grounds for arrogance we saw last night displayed at Toomers Corner.”
Realtor Joe Lovvorn had the endorsements of ALFA, the Alabama Roadbuilder’s Association, the Alabama Trucking Association, and a number of other influential PACs. Lovvorn had raised $102,329 in cash and in-kind contributions by Friday, September 9, far outraising the other candidates.
If no independent, third party or Democratic candidate qualifies for the special election ballot, Lovvorn will be declared the winner and will succeed Mike Hubbard as the District 79 representative in the Alabama House of Representatives.