There is an old saying that when spring is in the air a young man’s interest turns to love, but in Alabama politics a good many people’s interests turn to politics. It is like a sport in Alabama to start speculating on and handicapping the potential candidates for the next Governor’s race. Although it is almost four years away, the guessing has begun.

Bob Riley is prohibited by the Constitution from seeking a third four-year term so it makes the jockeying even more intense. There will be no incumbent so both party’s primaries will be wide open and aggressive.

The aspirants will not show their hands yet, but you can bet they are privately conversing with their closest friends, family, and advisors. You will feel the testing of the waters by some early polling data to ascertain their electability and name identification.

Even though it may seem early, candidates can begin their fundraising for the 2010 races in just over two years in June of 2009. Once that bell rings the most serious of the contenders will be off to the races and jockeying and betting will begin. At that time it will be known who the real horses are going to be for the brass ring, the Governor’s office. Special interests will pull out all their ammunition for their horse because it will be for all the marbles and the winner’s reign will probably be for eight years, given the advantage of incumbency.

The prohibitive early favorite is Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. He has been through seven statewide races, three successful runs for the Public Service Commission, three more wins for Lt. Governor, and his only loss was for Governor in 1994, a close race to Fob James. Folsom knows the importance of fundraising and has the proven ability to attract campaign funds.

Two more Democrats are waiting in the wings. The interesting question is whether they have the courage to challenge Folsom the frontrunner. It is doubtful that Folsom will falter because the Lt. Governor’s office has no power, thus he cannot create any waves or controversy.

The most potent potential Democrat is House Speaker Seth Hammett. He is bright, articulate and organized. However, he is not a gambler. He will have the odds calculated to the inch degree. If he does not believe he can win he will not run. The office of Speaker of the House is very powerful. Thus he is in a position to raise the big bucks to run. However, on the other hand, the Legislature does not generate high profile name identification. Hammett tested the waters in 2006 and initial polling indicated his name was below 5% statewide. It is doubtful whether any member of the House or Senate would register as much as 10% statewide name identification.

Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks openly acknowledges that he lusts for the Governor’s office. He will have to move from the Agriculture post in 2010 after having served two terms. Although he has been elected twice to his current job, it is very low profile and he probably does not have high name identification. Democratic bosses will probably steer him to the Lt. Governor’s race. Hammett would probably not be interested in the Lt. Governor’s job because he would lose power.

Ironically the Republicans do not have any major players sitting in Constitutional offices that could currently challenge a Jim Folsom Jr. The highest ranking GOP face card is Attorney General Troy King and he does not really look gubernatorial at this time. The other lower profile officeholders, like Beth Chapman, seem relegated to their administrative offices. However, Kay Ivey, the Treasurer, may well be eyeing the Lt. Governor’s race. There may be a battle brewing for the GOP Lt. Governor nomination between Ivey and Luther Strange. He may want another shot at the spot he missed by only 20,000 votes.

This void in the GOP ranks for potential gubernatorial candidates leaves the door wide open for a well-financed, unknown businessman to come out of the blue. That phantom candidate will appear in my opinion and because the Republican party is now the majority party in Alabama it will be a close race no matter who the Republicans select.

Many observers predict that Gov. Riley will have a favorite candidate as his successor. Two names mentioned prominently are his son, Birmingham lawyer Rob Riley, or his best friend, Auburn Representative Mike Hubbard.

Charles Barkley tells everyone in the world on national talk shows that he plans to run for Governor of Alabama but no matter how many times he says it he will not be a candidate. He is prohibited by the law. Our Constitution requires that a Governor be a resident of Alabama for seven years prior to election.

Politics never ends in Alabama.