- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Republicans in 2010 won a majority in the Alabama Legislature with a campaign strategy that included lobbing accusations of corruption and cronyism at the Democratic Party who held legislative control for more than a century

In 2014, Republicans are looking to maintain, or extend, their dominance, but this time they are trying to do it with one of their most prominent leaders, House Speaker Mike Hubbard, facing 23 felony ethics charges.

Some of the tightest races on Tuesday ballots will be contests for legislative seats, and the charges against Hubbard, who was arrested Oct. 20 are quickly becoming an eleventh-hour campaign issue.

The Southern Progress Action Fund, an Arkansas group whose website says it is aimed at once again making the South a competitive battleground for Democrats , has begun running television ad trying to link incumbent Republicans to Hubbard’s legal woes. The commercial, which repeatedly displays Hubbard’s mug shot from his arrest, tells targeted incumbents to “stop standing with Hubbard.” Mailers sent by a Democratic candidate to voters in an east Alabama says, “It’s time to end the culture of corruption in Montgomery.” Other Democratic hopefuls have challenged incumbents to return campaign money from Hubbard or to no longer support him as House leader.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said while Republicans ran on ending corruption is 2010, they could be hurt by the corruption charges in 2014. In addition to Hubbard, a Montgomery legislator resigned earlier this year after pleading guilty to misdemeanor ethics charges. A third lawmaker was charged with perjury but acquitted by a jury on Thursday.

“The indictments are huge,” Ford said, saying he believes they could put additional House districts in play.

Hubbard and Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead lashed out at the Southern Progress ad, with Hubbard calling it an attempt by an “out-of-state liberal” organization to influence the elections.

“Why does an out-of-state group like Southern Progress Action have an interest in Alabama? They have a desire in going into southern states and flipping them back to the Democratic Party. Alabamians are not going to be fooled by their tactics,” Armistead said.

Armistead said he didn’t think the charges would impact other races.

“I think everyone is running on their own merits. I don’t think because one person has been charged with something that it’s going to cause voters to vote against some other person. I know that’s what Democrats would like you to do,” Armistead said.

The 140-member Alabama Legislature will almost certainly remain majority GOP after Election Day. At issue is exactly how the partisan split shakes out and how much, or how little, a voice Democrats will have.

“Alabama has become a solidly red state,” said Bill Stewart, former chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Alabama.

Republicans currently hold 66 seats and Democrats 37 in the 105-member Alabama House of Representatives, where there is one vacancy and one Independent. After a redistricting plan that eliminated at least one Democratic district, Ford said he is hoping Democrats will have 35 to 39 seats after the chips fall on Election Day.

“I don’t know if we get out of a super minority. It would be great if we do,” Ford said.

Ford contends voters have reason to move away from GOP incumbents, including their education policies and the state’s unemployment rate to campaign ads that focus on President Obama when local politicians can not affect federal policies.

Ford talks about the year the way football coaches do after a disastrous season, with a focus on rebuilding and an eye on years down the road. Alabama Republicans, who swept the ballot in 2010, see an opportunity to extend their dominance.

“People like what we are doing in Montgomery. They like that we are challenging the status quo,” Hubbard said.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh of Anniston said he believes Republicans will pick up two more seats in the Alabama Senate where Republicans currently hold 23 of 35 districts.

Some of interesting matchups on Tuesday include:

-Senate District 10: Former state Sen. Larry Means is attempting to win his old seat back. Means lost to Republican Rep. Phil Williams in 2010. Means and other politicians faced vote-buying charges in 2010 but a federal jury found all of the defendants not guilty.

-House District 16: Rep. Daniel Boman of Sulligent was elected as a Republican in 2010 but switched to the Democratic Party. Republicans hope to regain his District 16 seat, which was significantly altered when the Republican-controlled Legislature drew new districts based on the 2010 Census. Republican Kyle South is opposing Boman.

-Senate District 6: Seven-term Democrat Roger Bedford of Russellville faces a challenge from political newcomer Larry Stutts. Republicans have targeted Bedford’s northwest Alabama district in previous elections but have never defeated the veteran Democrat.

-Senate District 12: Marsh has been forced into a high-dollar race for re-election. Democrat Taylor Stewart has spent more than $1 million in his effort to unseat the Republican Senate leader.

-Senate District 1: Republican Tim Melson and Democrat Curtis Mike Curtis are vying for the northwest Alabama seat. Republicans have targeted the district as a potential gain in 2014.

Tuesday’s election is also the first using new legislative lines drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus filed a lawsuit saying the map will dilute the impact of black voters by packing black voters into majority-minority districts. The result, they argued, will make it harder to elect white Democrats outside the overwhelmingly majority-black districts.

“Their motive was to try to create the Democratic Party as an African-American party and the Republican Party to be the white party,” Ford said. Republicans said the map reflected population shifts and corrected what they called years of unfair gerrymandering by Democrats.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case on Nov. 12.

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