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The Woman Who Saved Alabama

If it weren't for Kelley McCullough's quick thinking, Bob Riley wouldn't be governor.

11:00 PM, Nov 24, 2002 • By RACHEL DICARLO
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LAST MONDAY, twelve days after declaring victory, Alabama's Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Don Siegelman conceded the election to Republican Bob Riley. But it almost didn't turn out that way. If it hadn't been for one woman, the Republican National Committee's regional director Kelley McCullough, things might have gone terribly wrong for Riley.

On election night, while McCullough and other campaign workers scrambled to analyze vote totals called in by poll-watchers, she heard someone off-handedly mention that Riley had carried Baldwin County, a heavily Republican area, by a large margin-- almost 22,000 votes. At the time, she didn't think anything of it and hurried on.

Later in the night though, as the official results began pouring in county-by-county to the Associated Press, the tally for Baldwin County showed Riley with 31,500 votes and Siegelman with 19,070--just a 12,500-vote margin.

No one noticed the inconsistency and workers plugged the numbers into the computer and continued. Then Riley's chances of winning started looking grim.

"There were only four counties left, they weren't Republican counties and we were behind," McCullough said.

Remembering the 22,000-vote margin she had heard about in Baldwin, she wondered why it hadn't given him more of a boost. Stranger still in Baldwin County, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor only received 13,000 votes in, compared with the 19,070 votes Siegelman was reported to have garnered.

There was no obvious reason for the 6,000-vote disparity. Some quick research showed that a candidate for lieutenant governor had never received so many fewer votes than the party's gubernatorial candidate. Also, Siegelman had never lived in Baldwin County, so there wasn't a "native son" factor in play.

McCullough logged onto the county's municipal website and confirmed that Siegelman had actually only received 12,736 votes--not the 19,070 the Associated Press projected for him. A computer glitch had caused the error. The erroneous tally would have put Siegelman on top by 3,582 votes, but the corrected one gave Riley a 2,752-vote edge.

Meanwhile, Siegelman, unaware of the discrepancy, had declared victory, and was calling on Riley to concede. McCullough hurried to the phone to warn him not to.

The following days consisted of lawsuits and demands for a recount while both candidates claimed victory. Siegelman complained that the optical scanners used to count votes were not reliable. He conceded though while the state's Supreme Court mulled over the legality of a statewide recount saying that he was "dropping [his] request" for "the good of the state of Alabama."

McCullough is modest about her role in Riley's win. "There were a lot of folks working hard that night to make sure we had the right information, " she says. "I'm just glad we won."

Alabamans should be glad that McCullough was keeping watch.

Rachel DiCarlo is a staff assistant at The Weekly Standard.