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Ten Commandments judge trails in polls

Incumbent leads pell-mell race for governor of Ala.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Roy Moore's unsuccessful fight to display the Ten Commandments and keep his job as Alabama's chief justice made him a national hero to religious conservatives three years ago.

But Moore isn't being treated like a hero in the state's topsy-turvy race for governor.

He trails Governor Bob Riley 2 to 1 in the polls and has an even wider gap in fund-raising as they head toward the Republican primary June 6.

It's a scenario that seemed unlikely in 2003, when Moore rose to national prominence and Riley took a body blow from voters who rejected his proposed $1.2 billion tax increase by a 2-to-1 ratio. Now Riley's running as a tax-cutter, thanks to the state's rebounding economy.

On the Democratic side, former governor Don Siegelman and Lieutenant Governor Lucy Baxley are running even in the polls despite the legal troubles of Siegelman, on trial on racketeering charges. He is accused of swapping political favors for gifts and campaign donations.

''There's nothing like Alabama politics," said Ferrel Guillory, a specialist in Southern politics at the University of North Carolina.

''In the Republican primary, you've got this contentious, polarizing figure, Roy Moore, who has made Riley look better in comparison. And in the Democratic primary, you've got a former governor, who on the eve of being put on trial, is in contention," Guillory said.

Moore became a national figure when, shortly after becoming Alabama's chief justice in 2001, he had a granite monument of the Ten Commandments installed in a state judicial building.

In 2003, a federal judge ordered him to remove the monument. Moore refused, and a state judicial court kicked him out of office.

Riley, who narrowly defeated Siegelman in 2002, supported Moore until he refused to comply with the federal court order. Political specialists and pollsters said Riley wasn't the only one who thought Moore went too far.

''He stepped on -- if not over -- one of those imperceptible lines in American life," Guillory said.

The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition in Washington, D.C., and a good friend of Moore's, said he believes Moore's support is stronger than the polls indicate.

''He seems to have strong grass-roots support that doesn't poll strongly," he said.

He added, however, that Moore's character ''is sometimes at odds with what's involved in a campaign."

For example, in February, Mahoney and several other religious leaders toured nine rural Alabama Baptist churches burned by arsonists, but Moore declined an invitation to join them -- though Riley and other candidates for public office had already visited the churches.

Moore ''did not want to be viewed as taking advantage of the tragedy of the church burnings and make it look like a photo opportunity," Mahoney said.

Moore has criticized Riley for taking campaign donations from political action committees supported by businessmen who received $50 million in state industrial incentives. ''Your government is not controlled by the people; it is controlled by special interest lobbyists," he said.

The primary contest is not the classic battle between the GOP's religious right and business factions some had predicted a year ago.

Riley, who holds weekly Bible studies with his staff, still enjoys some support from religious conservatives.

''Roy Moore is not catching on. He's still viewed as a one-note song," said Jess Brown, a political scientist at Athens State University.

Recent polling suggests that Riley is leading Baxley and Siegelman by comfortable margins if he were to be matched against either Democrat in the Nov. 7 general election. Moore trailed Baxley by a wide margin and was even with Siegelman.

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