Robert Bentley discusses primary runoff with CW

Robert Bentley discusses primary runoff with CW
FILE - This March 25, 2010 photo shows Rep. Robert Bentley, R-Tuscaloosa, in his office at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala. Bentlley is a Republican candidate for governor. (AP Photo/Phillip Rawls)

Robert Bentley shocked the Alabama political community by receiving 25 percent of the votes in the GOP primary, likely placing him in the Republican runoff July 13.

Bentley held a narrow 140-vote lead over Tim James after election night, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting. The final vote tally gave Bentley a 167-vote advantage. James said Wednesday in a 5 p.m. news conference that he would be paying for a recount.

Bentley, a former Tuscaloosa State House Representative who vacated his seat to run for governor, was able to overcome substantial fundraising disadvantage and name recognition concerns.

Bentley ran a campaign focused on unemployment and promised that, if elected, he would serve without pay until Alabama reaches full employment.

The Crimson White sat down with Bentley to discuss the current state of the Alabama Republican Primary.

Crimson White: What's the latest you can tell Alabama students about the recount process?

Robert Bentley: As of right now they are calling for the count of the provisional ballots. Usually, people disregard the provisional ballots. Many times they aren't even counted, but they are going to go ahead and ask for a count of the provisional ballots.

I don't believe that will change things significantly, because even if it is 200 or 300 hundred ballots that are deemed as legitimate, they should break along the way the race is, so I don't think that’s going to change anything significantly. It's not like one candidate is going to get every ballot. That's not going to happen.

So we're just waiting. That's going to happen Tuesday at noon. After then, all the numbers will come in and we'll have the official count at that time, and then certification of the election will take place on [July 11].

Either candidate could call for a statewide recount of the ballots or you could call for certain counties to be recounted if you wish. The problem with that is the candidate must pay for them. And that does delay the process considerably. It puts everybody it limbo. It puts Bradley Byrne in limbo; he doesn't know who he will be running against. It puts us in limbo, even though we are the certified winner.

I think the party will have to make a decision on whether the integrity of the party is most important. I don't know, I really don't know what's going to happen. I think it really puts everybody in a very difficult situation.

Its so much easier if you win by a larger margin and none of this takes place. I've been through this before. In 1998 I went through a city race that I actually lost, but we went through the same problem at that time.

I understand how Tim feels and what he is going through. It is an emotional rollercoaster. You've worked hard, and you feel like you've won. Even though I don't think he feels like he has won, but you'd like to make sure every vote counts. I agree with that. I think every vote should count.

Some of the provisional ballots are obviously not legal votes. Those will be tossed out. The ones that are legal that will be counted will be determined by the local board of registrars or whoever determines that it each county.

So it's just a waiting game, but it really puts everybody in a difficult situation. But, here again, I harbor no ill feelings at all toward Tim James. I think he is an honorable man and a good man. Do I blame him for what he is doing? No not all all. We would all just like the process to speed up, and let’s get past it, and let’s move on, because as of now, I am in the runoff with Bradley Byrne.

CW: So you expect to be in the runoff?

RB: I do, I expect to be in the runoff. Not only do I expect to be in the runoff, I expect to win the runoff and be the next governor.

CW: How did you overcome a major fundraising and name recognition disadvantage?

I think there were a couple of things. I believe that my ads on television resonated with people across the state. I believe when they saw me on TV, they liked me. Television can make or break you, and television helped me. I do believe that the negative campaigning that took place between Bradley Byrne and Tim James was what we anticipated, and everything really fell into place. We anticipated that they might do that, and they continued. We continued our positive ads about putting people back to work, fighting the federal governments intrusion in our daily lives and cleaning up Montgomery. We kept talking about those issues and did not talk about any other candidate. I think that helped us considerably.

Now, there are a lot of people that now tell us, "If we thought you had a chance, we would have voted for you." I don't know why people even think that. I vote for the people I think are the best candidate, whether I think they stand a chance or not. But people are like that, they want to be on the side of the winner.

I think those two things [worked] in combination: our message and the fact that people right now know that this state is in trouble, and they need some leadership. I think they saw that in me.

They want somebody that is steady. I am a doctor. They tend to trust doctors. They feel like I am a trustworthy person, and I think it came across that I really care about the people of Alabama.

I can tell you one other thing that happened. This is the third thing: I spent a tremendous amount of time out meeting people. I didn't go to courthouses, speak on the court house steps and get back in a bus and leave. I went and met with everybody in the courthouse and asked everybody there to vote for me. I bet I shook hands with 25,000 people over the last three weeks. It was an obvious grassroots campaign and if I didn't do that I wouldn't be in the runoff.

CW: Did you expect to receive as many votes?

RB: I thought I was going to be in the runoff when nobody else thought I was going to be in the runoff. I always said I was going to be in the runoff.

We watched the tracking polls the last 10 days. Every day you could see it go up and up and up.

Tim James tracked up just a little bit the last three days. We knew it was going to be extremely close. Whether or not we had enough tot overtake him, we didn't know, but we felt like we did, and it looks like we did.

CW: How much did your employment promise contribute to your results?

RB: That was major. When I would go out, and I would talk with people across the state, I would say 75 percent of the people would say, "Are you that doctor that is not going to take a salary?" and that resonated.

We had talked about doing that anyway, not taking a salary until we reached full employment, which, by the way, is 5.2 percent. Then I said, "Well, let's just say it."

We wanted it to come across genuine and not like a gimmick, and I think it did. But yes, of all the issues, that was number one. It still is.

CW: What will be the key issue for you in the Republican runoff?

RB: We are going to stick with what we've done. Why would we change? We're going to stay with a positive message. We're going to talk about solving problems.

There are different problems now. We've got the oil spill down in the gulf. I need to show leadership. I need to show I'm intelligent enough to work for real solutions for problems. So, we're going to do that. We're going to talk about the issues. I'm going to still talk about putting people back to work. That's the number one issue. And this oil spill down there just complicates things because that is putting people out of work.

The number one issue still is the economy and the jobs rate, and even as a state we've got to work on trying to getting people back working

That's number one, so we're going to concentrate on that more than anything else.

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