The decision by Jim Folsom Jr. to run for reelection as Lt. Governor, rather than seeking to be promoted to Governor, is having a domino effect on the 2010 elections. As we speak, there is a shuffling and realignment going on among both parties’ aspirants in next year’s races.

The players are beginning to enter the stage, but maybe in a different costume or robe than initially planned. The lineup will be primarily complete within the next two months as fundraising can begin in mid June. The period from July to January will be like spring training and fall practice preparing for the political season of 2010.

The first and foremost Democratic candidate to announce is our only African American Congressman Artur Davis. Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks was waiting for Folsom to make his decision. He has been chomping at the bit to get started. Sparks decided early on that he would avoid Folsom and make the race that Folsom opted out of. So, he is now officially in the Governor’s race.

Sparks has served his eight year limit as Agriculture Commissioner. He has proven to be a prolific vote getter in his two statewide races for the Agriculture post, especially in vote rich North Alabama. He will be a serious candidate for Governor. He believes Artur Davis will get thrashed in rural Alabama even in the Democratic primary.

Another thoroughbred may enter the Democratic field. Veteran Russellville State Senator Roger Bedford may test the water. Bedford has been a power in the State Senate since his arrival nearly three decades ago. He is Chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee. His entry may signal the fact that he suspects the Republican and conservative Democratic coalition may take control of the Senate in the next quadrennium. Bedford loves politics and will be able to raise significant funds and will not be outworked.

Sparks and Bedford are strong horses. However, they will be entering a Democratic primary that is composed of 50% African Americans. They will be hard-pressed to pry many of those voters away from a well financed Artur Davis. Davis will be able to garner 20% of the white Democratic primary vote. Folsom was the only Democrat heavy enough to best Davis in a Democratic primary. Sparks or Bedford can make it close, but close only counts in marbles and horseshoes. My bet is that Artur Davis emerges as the 2010 Democratic nominee.

The void in the Republican field is puzzling. Tim James, the 46 year old son of former Gov. Fob James, is the only entrant. He believes in the old maxim that “the early bird gets the worm.” He has been campaigning full-time for over a year. He has put $2 million into his campaign and has assembled one of the most impressive campaign staffs, media consultants and polling experts available. He should not be taken lightly.

Jack Hawkins, Jo Bonner and Troy King have taken their names out of contention. The potential names left are two year college Chancellor and former State Senator Bradley Byrne, State Treasurer Kay Ivey, State Rep. Robert Bentley of Tuscaloosa, former Chief Justice Roy Moore and Birmingham lawyer Luther Strange. Strange, who ran a very close race with Folsom for Lt. Governor in 2006, will be on the ballot. He has never stopped running. Early indicators are that he will challenge Troy King in the GOP primary for Attorney General. King is considered vulnerable. However, with the departure of Folsom from the big race, Strange may be enticed to seek the brass ring.

The above players will need to enter the fray by June to be serious horses. There is a scenario in play that calls for an unknown Republican horse to enter the field. Almost like in 1978 when an unknown Opelika businessman named Fob James waltzed onto the scene and stole the show. A successful, self-made multimillionaire who could finance themselves to the tune of $3-5 million could appear on the stage and could arrive late with that kind of money.

So far the Republican field has a perplexing lack of heavyweights, especially given the fact that the winner of the Republican primary would more than likely emerge as the favorite if the Democratic nominee is Artur Davis.