As the aspirants for the 2010 Governor’s race begin gearing up for the challenge, one of the initial endeavors they will embark is a Benchmark poll. This first test will cost them or their supporters a little money. Polling is not cheap, especially if it is done by a reputable pollster. To their dismay or chagrin they will discover that very few Alabamians know who they are.

Their original Benchmark poll will determine their name identification. Many aspiring statewide candidates are very humbled by their anonymity. They are under the allusion that they are a household name when in all actuality most Alabamians have never heard of them and do not want to hear from them. Many of them have already found out or are about to find out that they have abysmal name identification as they start out. When Speaker of the House Seth Hammett, who is arguably the second most powerful person in state government, tested the water for a race for Governor this time four years ago he registered a paltry 3% name identification.

Of the potential candidates whose names have been floated as gubernatorial candidates only one, Jim Folsom Jr., could garner over 60% name identification. Two others, Kay Ivey and Ron Sparks, may register about 20% because both have been elected statewide twice. The other aspirants, Artur Davis, Jack Hawkins, Bradley Byrne, Tim James and others, will be lucky if they have 10% statewide name identification. However, it should be noted that Gov. Bob Riley was an obscure six-year veteran of Congress like Davis and registered only about 10% name identification when he started out eight years ago.

One of the funniest stories I have ever heard is told about one of my best buddies Mac McArthur. Mac has been head of the Alabama State Employees Association for about a decade now. In 1998 he was the Director of the Alabama Ethics Commission and wanted to venture into a race for Attorney General. He employed an expensive marquee polling firm to do a Benchmark poll. When Mac excitedly sat down with the pollster to get the results he was especially looking forward to learning how well known he was throughout the state. The pollster showed Mac that he had 6% statewide name identification. However, he told a dejected Mac that was pretty good. Mac replied, “The only thing that’s good about it is that I know I can run through Winn Dixie naked and nobody will know who I am.”

As head of the ASEA, Mac is dealing with a horrible picture of layoffs and cutbacks in order to trim the state budget due to the economic meltdown that currently exists and is affecting the state’s coffers. Late last year, during the announcement of the cutbacks and hiring freeze, Riley and his Finance Director put a political crony Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh on the state payroll in a vague job created for her at $80,000 per year in he Finance Department. Talk about bad timing.

Our Senior Senator Richard Shelby has been the leading opponent in Washington against all of the federal bailouts. He has been a stalwart, steadfast and outspoken critic of the federal bailout programs, including both the banks and auto industry. He has been criticized in some corners for demagoging the issue and being hypocritical because we have many foreign owned automobile plants located here in Alabama. Some have accused him of being parochial and grandstanding for political advantage. This is not accurate. Shelby has reached a pinnacle of invulnerability politically and is unbeatable for his Senate seat. His stance is coming from a position of political strength that allows him to now be a statesman and not a politician. At the same time, Shelby has let everyone know that he is definitely running for reelection in 2010.

The automakers did not help their cause when they arrived on Capitol Hill in their initial panhandling expedition. The head of General Motors took a limo to a private jet and a private jet to Washington to beg for money in a $3,000 suit. He then returned home to manufacture $80,000 SUVs that get seven miles per gallon.

McDowell Lee, the 86-year old Secretary of the Senate, has announced that he will retire in 2010 after over four decades of running the Alabama Senate. The stories he could tell would be something to behold.