- Associated Press - Sunday, June 1, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - President Barack Obama isn’t on Alabama’s primary election ballot Tuesday, but the campaigns in both political parties make it seem like he is.

Republicans have built their campaigns around who would fight Obama the hardest, while Democrats have talked about their support of Obama and have called for Alabama to expand its Medicaid program under the president’s federal health care law.

“The candidates have brought President Obama into Alabama’s primary election by Republicans continuing to display their opposition to his programs and Democrats lining up with their national party,” said William Stewart, retired chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama.

In the GOP primary, Obama is being used as a weapon. In east Alabama, state Sen. Tom Whatley of Auburn is being criticized by his opponent for donating $4,600 to Obama’s campaign in 2008 before winning public office as a Republican in 2010. And in south Alabama, state Sen. Jimmy Holley of Elba is accusing Obama of trying to hijack the Republican primary because Holley’s opponent has received support from one of Obama’s political allies, the state affiliate of the National Education Association.

“He’s so unpopular in Alabama, the attempt is to tie your opponent to the president,” Republican political consultant Brent Buchanan said.

Despite the focus on Obama, election officials are preparing for a lower-than-normal turnout. Over the last 20 years, Alabama’s gubernatorial primary turnout has ranged from 32 percent in 1998 and 2010 to 41 percent in 1994.

Alabama’s chief election official, Secretary of State Jim Bennett, is forecasting 25 percent to 27 percent of Alabama’s 2.85 million voters will participate Tuesday. He attributes it in large part to Alabama not having a hotly contested race for governor.

On the Republican side, incumbent Robert Bentley has been endorsed by a who’s who of Montgomery lobbying organizations and has raised more than $1,000 for every $1 raised by his two largely unknown opponents. On the Democratic side, former minor league baseball player Kevin Bass hasn’t been able to catch up to former U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith in name recognition. Griffith has the endorsement of the party’s black wing, the Alabama Democratic Conference, which usually ensures success in a primary with low turnout.

Stewart said the governor’s race drives turnout in a nonpresidential election year, and there is no suspense in the governor’s race. “It’s one of the most lackluster elections in my lifetime,” the 74-year-old political scientist said.

Former Secretary of State Beth Chapman, now a political consultant for the Alabama Farmers Federation and other groups, said the 2010 and 2012 elections were watersheds, with Republicans capturing every office elected statewide and taking more than 60 percent of the seats in the Legislature. She said that makes this election different from what has happened in the past.

“It’s more Republican versus Republican,” she said.

Campaign finance reports show the Republican primary battles for some legislative seats will end up costing $1 million and will be more expensive than some races for statewide office, such as state auditor.

Republican political consultant Brent Buchanan said the Republican-controlled Legislature drew new legislative districts for this election that are either decidedly Republican or definitely Democratic. “It’s no longer Democrats versus Republicans. If you want to win a legislative seat, you have to win it June 3,” Buchanan said.

“It’s almost a general election now,” state Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said.

Despite some big-budget legislative races, many incumbents don’t have anything to worry about. In the 35-seat Senate, 18 senators - 11 Republicans and seven Democrats - have no opposition in the primary or general election. In the 105-member House, 64 incumbents - 46 Republicans and 18 Democrats - have no opposition. That’s nearly three-fifths of the membership guaranteed to return.

One of the results of Republicans taking control of the Legislature in 2010 was the passage of a law requiring citizens to show a photo ID to vote. The law goes into effect with this election.

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