Poll watchers suggest voters were turned off by impression that Moore, known as “’10 Commandments judge’, used religion for personal gain
MONTGOMERY, Ala. Alabama, often called “the buckle of the Bible Belt,” maintained its image by approving a ban on same-sex marriages. But state Republicans rejected Alabama’s ousted Ten Commandments judge in his bid for governor and a slate of court candidates from the religious right.
To a degree, the vote was a home state repudiation of the politics of Roy Moore, who gained a national following when he was removed as chief justice after refusing to obey a federal court order to move his Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse rotunda.
Moore lost Alabama’s Republican primary for governor by a 2-to-1 margin to incumbent Bob Riley, and a four-candidate slate of Supreme Court candidates aligned with Moore were turned back by equally wide margins Tuesday.
Moore and his slate got hit with “the Pharisee effect,” said Larry Powell, a longtime pollster who had correctly predicted the outcome of Tuesday’s primary.
Powell said many voters became tired of Moore constantly talking about religion and began to suspect he was using the issue for his own advancement.
Powell, who teaches communications at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, sees no conflict between Bible Belt voters defeating candidates on the religious right and passing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages.
“The values concept is still there, but they are highly suspicious of someone who uses it for their own ambitions,” he said.
Moore catapulted to the national stage in 2003 when he refused to obey the federal judge’s order an act of defiance praised by hundreds who held a vigil day after day outside the state judicial building, but a position that caused a state judicial court to kick him out of office.
Moore attempted a comeback in the Republican primary for governor, but Riley won easily by focusing on the state’s strong economy, a clean record and a new income tax cut for low-income workers. Riley advances to the general election against Democrat Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, who beat a former governor currently on trial for racketeering.
In the key Supreme Court race for chief justice, former Moore aide Tom Parker lost to Drayton Nabers, Riley’s handpicked successor to Moore.
Riley and the winning Supreme Court candidates drew strong financial support from the business community, which Moore and his slate couldn’t match.
Powell said the outcome showed the Republican business community is more in touch with the average Alabama voter than the religious right.
Some voters interviewed at the polls Tuesday said they were turned off by Moore and his allies saying they didn’t have to follow U.S. Supreme Court orders they don’t like.
“Roy Moore scares me,” said Gina McPhillips, a 35-year-old teacher from Mobile.
David Lanoue, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama, said the state’s voters weren’t being schizophrenic when they defeated Moore and approved the ban on same-sex marriages.
He said all of the candidates in the Republican primary were Christian conservatives who agree on many issues. “Alabama voters are overwhelming Christian and conservative. That didn’t change,” Lanoue said.
But he said many didn’t like Moore disobeying a court order.
“Voters didn’t want to see a repeat of what happened in 2003. It was an embarrassment to the state,” he said.
The ban on same-sex marriages passed with 81 percent of the vote. Howard Bayless, board chair of the gay rights group Equality Alabama, was heartened by the outcome because Mississippi voters approved a similar measure in 2004 by a wider margin: 86 percent.
“Over 170,000 people said they don’t want to write discrimination into our constitution,” Bayless said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 09, 2006.