Kay Ivey Tuesday won the Republican nomination for a second full term as governor, using the power of incumbency and appeals to conservative social issues to overcome eight other opponents.
With 92% of the vote counted Wednesday morning, Ivey had gotten 356,319 votes (54.4%) in unofficial returns. Former Slovenian ambassador Lindy Blanchard had 125,913 (19.2%). Businessman and two-time gubernatorial candidate Tim James had 105,976 votes (16.2%) of the vote.
"I thank you with all my soul," Ivey told supporters on Tuesday night. "I am so proud to be your governor."
Ivey's victory came after a Republican primary campaign where the candidates spent more than $25 million, and where state issues were shoved aside for attacks on President Joe Biden and invocation of national issues.
Alabama primary results: See live vote totals as they're reported election night
Ivey kicked off her campaign last year with an emphasis on the state economy, particularly the state's job recovery after the COVID pandemic. The governor also repeatedly attacked Biden, an expected target in a Republican primary. But as her challengers, particularly James, began playing for socially conservative voters, Ivey largely set the state economy aside and focused instead on undocumented immigrants and transgender youth.
In one ad, Ivey expressed fear of Spanish-speaking Alabamians, even saying, "No way, Jose," in the spot. In another, the governor highlighted a law banning surgeries and gender-affirming care for transgender youth, saying "we’re going to go by how God made us." Such surgeries are not performed on transgender youth in Alabama, and a federal judge blocked the medication ban in the law earlier this month.
Blanchard and James both tried to get to Ivey's right flank. James, saying he would uphold "Judeo-Christian values," repeatedly attacked a charter school for LGBTQ youth in Homewood and said he would do what he could to end same-sex marriage in the state. James also said he would work to end gambling and medical marijuana in the state. Blanchard also joined in the attacks on transgender youth but focused heavily on her time as ambassador to Slovenia under President Donald Trump.
James said prior to results coming in on Tuesday that his campaign started by "talking about the things that matter, about the cultural war that we're in."
"God, he never promises we win or lose, most of the time," he said. "He says you have to obey. So we will see what happens. Either way we win, because we obey God, you obey and you are part of it. You will be blessed for this."
Ivey threw some barbs at Biden in her victory speech Tuesday, claiming that Democrats were "going to do everything they can to take back the power on this stage." But her speech made no mention of the culture war issues that had dominated her campaign. Ivey spoke more about low unemployment and business recruitment.
Both challengers also tried to attack Ivey over the 2019 state gas tax increase, saying they would use executive orders to suspend the tax and call the Legislature into session to revise it. (It is not clear whether the governor's emergency powers would allow that.)
Blanchard and James also said they would work to end the sales tax on groceries, though they were less clear on how they would do that. Both also said they would work to improve education and sold themselves as political outsiders. Blanchard self-financed almost all of her $10.4 million campaign.
Speaking to supporters Tuesday night, Blanchard said "the people of Alabama had spoken" and said she would be a "team player" for the party.
"Alabama's beautiful, and we all love Alabama," she said. "We all want the best for Alabama, and no matter what, Alabama will move forward, and we know that."
Voters who cast ballots for the governor on Tuesday seemed uninterested in the culture war, saying instead that they saw no need to change leadership. J. Harold Barber, a retired financial planner from Pike Road, said Tuesday morning that Ivey was a "known commodity" and that he knew where she stood on issues.
"I believe that she is a moderate conservative, and I am a moderate conservative," he said. "I hate extremism, either way."
Lew Burdette, a former Books-A-Million CFO who ran a campaign explicitly focused on state issues, had just under 30,000 votes (6.2%) as of 10 p.m.
The governor was long considered the favorite in the race. But the turnout for the primaries estimated at 28% to 32% on Tuesday (as of Wednesday morning, it was 22%), the Ivey campaign Tuesday afternoon held a press briefing where they acknowledged the possibility of a runoff and said that the governor had been outspent by the candidates in the field.
Ivey spent more than $9 million in the race, second only to Blanchard. Austin Chambers, a strategist for the Ivey campaign, tried to make the governor the underdog on Tuesday.
"We're encouraged by everything we're hearing and we believe that there's a really good chance that we're going to be able to shock some folks and pull off what most folks a few months ago was impossible, and potentially win this thing outright tonight," he said.
Democratic gubernatorial candidates Yolanda Flowers and Malika Sanders-Fortier appeared headed to a June 21 runoff on Tuesday night. The Democratic candidates combined raised less than $28,000 for the race, and spent less than $17,000.
Should the heavily favored Ivey win election in November and complete her second full term in office, she will have been governor for nearly 10 years. That would be the longest continuous time anyone has held the office, and the second-longest cumulative time after George Wallace, who was governor for 16 years in three separate periods in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or email@example.com. Updated at 8:30 a.m. with overnight numbers and comments from Blanchard.
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Alabama Primary 2022: Kay Ivey wins Republican gubernatorial primary