Alabama voters have education on their minds, and that appears to be benefiting Democrat Paul Hubbert, head of the state teachers' union, who has pulled even with Republican Gov. Guy Hunt.
A Birmingham News-Huntsville Times poll completed Saturday showed Hunt with 43.7 percent support, Hubbert with 42.3 percent and 14 percent undecided. The same poll had Hubbert 10 percentage points behind in early summer.
Hunt's campaign office said its polling was more in line with an Anniston Star poll two weeks ago that showed the incumbent with a 13-point lead. However, a spokesman acknowledged, "we have a very tough race on our hands."
The poll found that education is the most important state issue, modestly ahead of economic and job issues and far ahead of drugs, crime, the environment and abortion. Both candidates have tried to capitalize on the issue.
Hunt began airing a television commercial last week that portrayed Hubbert as a foe of teacher testing. Hubbert produced evidence that he supported teacher competency exams as far back as 1980 and ran an ad stating that Hunt was lying. So far, a majority of voters -- 51 to 36 percent -- said they believe Hubbert would do the best job of improving education.
While Hunt was liked by most voters and most believed the state is moving in the right direction, the poll indicated that the first-term governor has not been able to translate these strengths into a belief by a majority of voters that he is a stronger or more qualified candidate than Hubbert.
Hubbert, who said the poll results are similar to his campaign's polling, added that his standing improved after Hunt began negative attacks against him last week.