Getting the Republican nomination for governor proved a lot more expensive this year than years past.
The nine candidates seeking the GOP nomination for governor spent almost $26 million on the race this year, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Alabama Secretary of State’s office. The amount was four times the $6 million dropped in the lead-up to the 2018 primary.
The bulk of the expenditures came from the top three candidates: Gov. Kay Ivey, who spent $9.1 million; former Slovenian ambassador Lynda Blanchard, who spent $10.1 million, and businessman Tim James, son of former Gov. Fob James, who spent $4.5 million. Ivey’s expenditures were more than double the $4.2 million she reported spending in the 2018 GOP primary.
The open wallets reflected the central importance of the GOP primary in Alabama politics; the financial resources of the three leading candidates — Blanchard largely self-funded her campaign — and the relentless TV war that erupted between them, which mixed encomiums to gun rights with attacks on undocumented immigrants and transgender youth.
The fight over the airwaves suggested potential trouble for Ivey. But in the end, the spending barely changed the results. In unofficial returns, Ivey got 54% of the statewide vote, compared to 56% in the 2018 primary. Blanchard, the biggest spender in the race, finished in second place with 19% of the vote. The runner-up in the 2018 contest, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, got 25% of the vote.
“Governor Ivey ran a great campaign that even her opponents praised,” William Heartsill, a spokesman for Ivey’s campaign, wrote in an email Friday. “Despite the millions of dollars spent against her, Alabama voters showed up to the polls and gave Governor Ivey a big win on May 24.”
Ivey raised $2.4 million over the last month of the campaign. Her largest single donation came from Get Families Back to Work Inc., a dark money group based out of the same address as the Republican Governors Association. The organization, which the Ivey campaign has refused to discuss, gave her $500,000 in May, and $2 million overall.
The governor spent $2.7 million between April 24 and May 24. Most of that ($2.3 million) went to advertising with FlexPoint Media, a political advertising firm based out of Ohio. She finished the month with $48,620.
Blanchard lent her campaign $1 million on May 16 and an additional $122,000 on May 23, the day before the primary. She spent $3 million in the final month of the campaign. $1.8 million of that went to Multi Media Services Corporation, an advertising agency based in Alexandria, Virginia. She finished the month with $22,143 on hand.
James’ campaign ended the month with $12,811 in debt. The candidate raised about $1.3 million over the last month of the campaign, with $1 million of that coming from Clearbrook LLC, a company based out of Mobile. He spent $1.4 million over the last month of the campaign. Most of that money (over $1 million) went to ad buys placed with Red Eagle Media, a Virginia-based firm.
Other significant spenders on the Republican side included Dean Young, a longtime aide to former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who spent $722,213 on the primary; Lew Burdette, a former Books-A-Million executive and director of a shelter for victims of domestic violence, who spent $699,592; and Dean Odle, an Opelika minister, who spent $175,765.
The much lower-profile Democratic gubernatorial race saw a total of $31,281 spent. Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier of Selma will face educator Yolanda Flowers of Birmingham in a June 21 runoff.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or [email protected].