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Hartselle Enquirer

History repeats itself

By By Bob Ingram
MONTGOMERY–There is a striking similarity between the 2002 Republican Primary for governor and the Democratic Primary of 1978.
George Wallace was nearing the end of back-to-back terms as governor, he was prohibited from seeking another term, and a host of battle-tested, high-profile veterans thought the time had come for them
to win the office of governor.
Atty. Gen. Bill Baxley, eight years in that office, jumped into the race; so did Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley, who had also held that office for eight years.
Then there was former Gov. Albert Brewer, who after losing a heartbreaking run-off election in 1970, appeared poised to make a strong race.
If the "3-B's" weren't enough…and that is what we of the press dubbed Baxley, Beasley and Brewer…there was another facecard in the race: State Sen. Sid McDonald of Arab.
Then came the announcement that former Auburn football star and millionaire businessman Fob James of Opelika also pined to be governor.
The question most often asked about James' candidacy was "Why?" He had no political experience, in fact his only brush with politics was serving briefly on the Republican State Executive Committee.
Proclaiming himself a "born again Democrat", James launched his campaign. "It's time for a new beginning", he proclaimed; those other guys have had the opportunity to clean up the mess in Montgomery and haven't done it…elect an outsider to do the job.
To the asonishment of a lot of us so-called experts, James was indeed elected. He led the field in the primary and easily outpolled Baxley in the run-off. I still rank it the biggest upset of my 50 years on the scene.
Now fast forward to the 2002 Republican Primary. Congressman Bob Riley has made almost a carbon copy of the James campaign of 1978.
His strategy appears to be working. Recent polls show him widening the gap over Windom, in fact there is some talk he might well win the nomination in the first round, without a run-off.
Returning briefly to that 1978 campaign. It has always intrigued me that the four losers in that race–Baxley, Beasley, Brewer and McDonald–have reason to be glad they didn't win.
That campaign ended the political careers of all of them but Baxley…he was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1982 but then lost another bid for governor in 1986–but all four of them, after departing the political scene, have been hugely successful in their chosen careers. Like Daddy Warbucks successful.