The Magazine

Can You Spot the Differences?

Seven Alabama Republicans are hard to tell apart.

May 19, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 34 • By MARIA SANTOS
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Beason is blunt, which gets him in trouble. Recently he called a textbook “anti-American” for asking students to compare Arthur Miller’s account of the Salem witch trials in his play The Crucible with the 1950s McCarthy investigations. Miller wrote the play to criticize McCarthyism. “All I said is, ‘Let’s just be balanced,’ ” Beason insists. He was once caught on tape jokingly calling black people “aborigines.” “I was defended by members of the black caucus in the legislature,” he responds. He brings up the rear on fundraising with about $16,000.

Tom Vignuelle is a cattle farmer and owns Royal Bedding Manufacturing, Inc. He thinks he has experience the other business candidates don’t. “Ask them the last time they filed their sales tax. Ask them the last time they did receivables and payables.” He’s backed by a few small Tea Party groups and likes to talk about reforming the Federal Reserve. He’s low on funds, at about $45,000.

And finally there’s Robert Shattuck. The other candidates smirk politely at his name. Shattuck refuses to answer policy questions, which he calls “academic.” What he will say is that “Congress is not working” and nothing else should be discussed. He has zero funds and writes so prolifically on his email list and blog—al6thcongdist-ihaveuntiljan13.blogspot.com—that a typical comment, from a U.S. News reporter, is, “I want off of this list.” 

On a Monday afternoon in Birmingham’s largest suburb, all seven candidates come to Hoover High School—renowned for its nationally ranked football team—to debate. But the questions barely matter: All of the candidates (except Shattuck) support essentially the same things. They even recite many of the same tropes. Several “married their high-school sweetheart,” most have “lived here their whole life,” several “were the first in their family to go to college.” 

So what will decide the race? Money? Beason’s fundraiser, Mike Rubino, doesn’t think so—although with Beason trailing in funds, he has an interest in thinking that. He’s working campaigns in several states, but says this one is different. He splits the district between the wealthy Homewood/Vestavia/Mountain Brook neighborhoods and the more rural surrounding areas. “You have Will Brooke and Paul DeMarco who are centrally located here,” Rubino says, “and they raise so much money. .  .  . But does that necessarily mean that if you turn out all of Mountain Brook, you can win this race?”

In Alabama’s last governor’s race, Bradley Byrne lost to Robert Bentley in the Republican runoff despite vastly outspending him. Beason says people here aren’t swayed by things money can buy, like TV ads. “They’ll be talking to people at church or on the baseball field and all that kind of stuff.” 

With the most recent poll, conducted for the Mathis campaign, showing 44 percent of voters undecided and several candidates clustered, predictions would be foolhardy. What is crystal clear, though, is why this race is crowded. Whoever wins stands an excellent chance of being in Congress a long time.

Maria Santos is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.

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