It was a good night for incumbents and a frustrating one for challengers in the Russell County Commission election. District 2 Commissioner Tillman M. Pugh won a three-way race for the seat Tuesday, fending off two challengers and avoiding a runoff by a hair.
Precinct results showed Pugh garnering just less than 50 percent -- 346 of 700 votes -- against former Commissioner Gordon E. Cox and political newcomer Brad Wheeler. But 16 absentee votes put him over the mark by a margin of 50.42 percent.
“I’ve been in Ladonia a long time, and this is probably the most satisfying win I’ve had,” Pugh said from a victory party, adding he was humbled by the victory.
Wanda “Bang Bang Lady” Lamb lost her bid for the District 7 seat, but seemed in good spirits nevertheless. Incumbent Commissioner Larry D. Screws will face off in a runoff April 24 against former commissioner J.D. Upshaw.
The winner of that contest faces Republican William B. Smith this fall.
“I lost but I’m good,” Lamb said by phone late Tuesday. “I gave it my best, and so did they.”
In District 3, Commission Chairwoman Peggy J. Martin defeated political newcomer Micah Holland, winning about 61 percent of the vote in the Republican primary, according to unofficial tallies. She’ll face Democrat J. W. Brannen in the general election this fall.
In District 5, Commissioner Cattie Epps defeated two challengers, Otis L. Bellamy Jr. and Henry “Chuck” Goshay, outright, avoiding a runoff. Unofficial results showed her winning 355 votes, or about 53 percent of the vote, with both precincts reporting. Epps, a Democrat, is unopposed in the general election.
District 6 Commissioner Mervin Dudley faced no Republican contender Tuesday, but Chance D. Corbett captured 71 percent of the vote in handily defeating Fillise Preer Carter for a Democratic bid to challenge Dudley this fall. Unofficial results showed Corbett winning by a vote of 357-144.
The results capped a day of voting that was slowed by early showers, but elections officials calculated a turnout in Russell County of about 18 percent, more than the 15 percent that had been anticipated.
National news outlets called the presidential primary for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum late Tuesday. But Newt Gingrich took Russell County, winning about 37 percent of the vote to Santorum’s 31 percent.
Interviews with local Republican voters showed strong support for Gingrich, a Baker High graduate who won Georgia’s primary last week and has been banking on wins in Southern states to buoy his campaign.
“Newt has more hands-on experience than the other two guys,” said Allen Brown, 44, of Pittsview, Ala. “I like his down-to-earth attitude. I don’t like a whole lot of mudslinging.”
In Seale, Ala., Betty Biggs said she cast her ballot for Gingrich, too, because he seems more likely to represent her interests in Washington. “Romney acts like he’s for all the rich people, and poor people don’t stand a chance. And I’m a poor person,” said Biggs, referring to former Massachussetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the frontrunner who is also hoping for a win in Alabama.
President Barack Obama faced no primary opposition, but his supporters still stopped by the Ladonia Volunteer Fire Department to cast their votes.
“I believe that he needs to still be given a fair chance to finish up all of the mess that he came in to,” said Sawanda Byrd, 37. “It’s nothing that’s going to change over night. He can’t work magic. I believe if he’s given a fair chance to finish out that he’ll prove to be the president that he set out to be.”
In Seale, Lamb’s supporters were courting voters at the old Russell County Courthouse on Jackson Street. Bob Schweiger of Hurtsboro, Ala., said he supported the “Bang Bang Lady” because he’s ready for a change on the commission.
“I think she’s a fresh face,” said Schweiger, who ran for the seat himself in 2008, “and I think she’s got some good thoughts about the way things should be in Russell County.”
But Felicia Williams, a school nurse, said she supported Screws, the incumbent, saying she’s satisfied with his performance the past four years. “We need something to get moving in Russell County,” she said. “You notice Ladonia has become industrialized ... and we’re the ones who keep gettting left behind. We need somebody that’s going to put Russell County on the map.”
With 22 out of 25 precincts reporting, incumbent Bill English is leading in the race for Lee County Probate judge against challenger Jon Chase. English, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term, has 7,566 votes, while Chase, the owner of JAG Trucking in Salem, Ala., has 3,154 votes.
In the district court judge race, incumbent Russell Bush had 7,152 votes, while Gary J. Black had 2,879 votes.
Staff writer Sara Pauff contributed to this report.