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Will Ainsworth captures GOP nomination for lieutenant governor, toppling Twinkle Cavanaugh

Chip Brownlee

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State Rep. Will Ainsworth, a first-term newcomer to Montgomery and rising voice within the Alabama Republican Party, has captured the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, outpacing longtime ALGOP official and Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh.

The Associated Press called the race for Ainsworth. At the time of publication, Ainsworth had 51.49 percent of the vote to Cavanaugh’s 48.51 percent.

Both candidates advanced to the runoff after neither received 50 percent of the vote in June’s primary.

Ainsworth’s victory comes after a contentious runoff race that included heated political ads and attacks from both camps. Ainsworth painted Cavanaugh as a Montgomery insider, zeroing in on her tenure on the PSC, while Cavanaugh hit Ainsworth on a petty theft conviction from his days in college.

Ainsworth spent the last few days ahead of Tuesday’s primary traveling around the state with a fake tiger and boat, countering Cavanaugh’s claims that he had been arrested for the theft of several tigers used for fundraising in Auburn in 2002 and for a boating incident in 2001.

With the fake tiger and boat behind him, Ainsworth said Cavanaugh distorted the facts. He downplayed his 2002 felony theft arrest as a college prank gone wrong. He also disputed that he had ever been arrested for driving an unregistered boat.

While Cavanaugh’s campaign said Ainsworth had been arrested and jailed for the boating incident, Ainsworth released a note from Jackson County Sheriff Chuck Phillips that said Ainsworth had never been jailed for his boating violation. Instead, Ainsworth pleaded guilty to the charge and paid about $130 in fines and court costs.

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And the felony theft charge — a class B felony — was later dismissed without prosecution after Ainsworth performed community service. He was 20 and in college at Auburn at the time of the arrest.

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The battle for the lieutenant governor’s race focused in large part on South Alabama, where Ainsworth picked up numerous endorsements in the Mobile area. State Sen. Rusty Glover, who was also seeking the nomination, picked up a plurality of the vote in Baldwin and Mobile County in June’s runoff.

Ainsworth will face Democratic nominee Will Boyd, who ran unopposed in last month’s Democratic primary.

Ainsworth labeled Cavanaugh as a Montgomery insider throughout the campaign. She spent several years as ALGOP chairwoman after being elected to that position in 2005 and has been PSC president since 2012.

Cavanaugh initially planned to run for governor before Gov. Kay Ivey formally announced her intention to seek a full-term. Cavanaugh switched to the lieutenant governor’s race in August, APR first reported.

Elected in 2014, Ainsworth made a name for himself as a conservative bulwark, sponsoring legislation during the last legislative session that would have allowed teachers to be armed in Alabama public schools. He introduced the legislation after a mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school took the lives of more than a dozen students.

The legislation was met with intense opposition by Democrats and a lukewarm reception from his Republican colleagues and leadership in both chambers.

Ainsworth has branded himself as a Montgomery outsider, promising to clean up ethical lapses among the state’s leadership and fight corruption. He backed Articles of Impeachment against former Gov. Robert Bentley and sponsored legislation that would allow for a public vote to recall state elected officials.

Ainsworth and Boyd will face off in the general election in November.

 

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