Siegelman blew it in 2002 race

MONTGOMERY &045; Give me a few points for predicting in this space last week that Gov. Don Siegelman would throw in the towel … take off a few points because I thought it would come after he lost his appeal before the Supreme Court.

No matter, the 2002 gubernatorial election is now over.

Congressman Bob Riley defeated Siegelman by the narrowest of margins: Riley 672,225 votes, Siegelman 669,105 votes.

It was the closest gubernatorial election in history.

Why did Siegelman call it quits even before the official vote was certified? There were a variety of reasons but most importantly was that he knew he was fighting a lost cause.

There was no way he could win. The votes simply weren’t there.

This had already become obvious to most of his major supporters.

They were abandoning ship like the proverbial rats. Even before Siegelman surrendered, some of his top supporters had made the mandatory trip to Riley headquarters, palm leaf in hand, hopeful to make peace. (A prediction: Some of those same folks will eagerly contribute to the Inauguration expenses.)

After the dust has settled on this historic election hopefully someone will write a book on the rise and fall of the Siegelman empire.

Here was a man who had devoted his entire life to being elected governor … he won the office by a landslide four years ago … and then was beaten by the most unlikely of challengers, a little known Congressman whose name ID two years ago was in the single digits.

This sort of thing might happen in novels and movies, but it rarely happens in real life.

Those close to Siegelman say he still has a stunned, glassy-eyed look, like a boxer who has been knocked out but still not aware that the fight is over.

Sadly, despite a remarkable career in politics, he may be remembered as a governor who lost a bid for re-election which he certainly should have won.

The Monday Morning quarterbacks of Alabama politics have already begun coming up with their own conclusions on why Siegelman lost this election.

Hindsight affording the 20-20 vision it does, most agree that the issue of alleged corruption in the Siegelman administration was the key issue.

Siegelman had people in key positions who appeared at times to have pushed the envelope a little too far in awarding no-bid contracts to friends.

If in fact it were the allegations that questioned the honesty and intregrity of the governor which turned the election, Gov.-elect Riley ought to send a thank-you note to Eddie Curran of the Mobile Register, whose bulldog-like investigative reporting turned up most of these stories.

It has been a long time since it could be said that a newspaper reporter was responsible for the defeat of a governor. It could now be said with some validity

Some of the other quarterbacks feel Siegelman erred when he went on the attack in his TV advertising. If he had instead ignored the assaults from Riley and stayed on the affirmative … portable classrooms, Hyundai, jobs … he would have fared better at the polls.

Finally, where does Don Siegelman go from here? Did he wait so long before conceding that he became a &uot;sore loser&uot; in the eyes of the voters?

Most agree that he quit in time to avoid that kiss of death, but the problem is that the next race which would hold any interest to him … the U.S. Senate seat in 2004 … may be more than he wants to take on.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Shelby is in a powerful position if you believe the polls, and with the GOP now in control of the Senate, Shelby’s role (and prominence) can only increase.

(I digress &045; the man Shelby ought to be worrying about is Chief Justice Roy Moore, but that is a different column for a different time.)

The bottom line: It would be a risk to buy any stock in Siegelman’s political future.

He had a splendid run for 24 years but … and there is no other way to put it … he blew it in 2002