WETUMPKA — Lindy Blanchard, a nonprofit director, former ambassador and major financial supporter of former President Donald Trump, entered the gubernatorial race on Tuesday, hitting traditional Alabama Republican issues while sprinkling in the former president's name.
In a 10-minute speech in downtown Wetumpka, Blanchard — who went by Lynda during her Senate campaign — said she would oppose federal COVID vaccination plans and accused Republicans in charge of state government of being out of touch with Alabamians.
"I will stand up for our rights, against not just the liberal left, but the go-along, get-along so-called conservatives who have run things in Montgomery way too long," she said.
Blanchard, who Trump has reportedly encouraged to get into the race, is the second Republican to challenge Gov. Kay Ivey for the party nomination; businessman Tim James announced his campaign on Monday. James and Blanchard have both hit on themes of being conservative outsiders opposed to the federal government.
Blanchard on Tuesday did not mention Ivey by name, but said the state needed new leadership to move the state forward.
"I'm thankful for her steadying the ship, but I feel like Alabama wants new eyes and an outsider that will step out and be that different governor to represent the state," she said at a press conference after her announcement.
OTHER CANDIDATES: Tim James to seek Republican nomination for Alabama governor
In her re-election bid, Ivey is stressing the strength of the economy and touting her opposition to a vaccine plan unveiled by President Joe Biden earlier this year. Speaking to a meeting of the Prattville and Prattville-Millbrook Sunrise Rotary Clubs on Tuesday, Ivey said Alabama had had the lowest unemployment rate in the southeast for 13 consecutive months.
"With support from cities like Prattville and Millbrook, Alabama has laid a rock solid economic foundation that no pandemic, no natural disaster, not even an overreaching White House, can tear down," she said.
Asked about Blanchard after her speech, Ivey said "I don't know her" and said she would run on her record.
"I don't think many people have heard of Lynda Blanchard; I certainly have not," Ivey said. "We're going to keep on doing what we're doing and getting our message out. I'm proud of my record, and I'll be proud to talk about it."
The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Trump had encouraged Blanchard to run for governor and promised an endorsement if she left the U.S. Senate race. Trump reportedly blamed Ivey for a decision by the U.S.S. Alabama Battleship Commission to decline permission for a Trump rally to take place on the ship. Ivey's office has said the governor had no role in the decision.
Blanchard declined to say Tuesday if Trump had endorsed her, but said "that endorsement would be amazing."
"Every candidate asks for it, I believe," she said.
Supporters of Blanchard held up a number of signs alluding to Trump, and Blanchard herself stressed her time serving as ambassador to Slovenia under the former president, which she noted was where former First Lady Melania Trump grew up. Blanchard said she had worked in Slovenia to "free Europe from an energy dependence on Russia."
"It was a socialist country," she said. "However, for 30 years it has been trying to be a democracy, a free democracy. You could have pinched me every day. I actually had the opportunity to serve for the United States of America, to serve with our military, and to support Donald Trump's America First initiative."
The candidate was hazier on her plans for Alabama. Blanchard said she had put her children through "public, private, and actually homeschooling and supported charter schools," and said education would be one of her "biggest priorities." She said at a press conference she wanted to focus on teacher retention but said she would look at "best practices" in other states on the issue.
Blanchard also said she would look at "best practices" in the handling of COVID pandemic, which has led to the deaths of more than 16,000 Alabamians.
"I would have looked at it differently, because early on, the conservative Republican governors, a lot of them didn't do lockdowns," she said.
Blanchard was the first declared candidate for the U.S. Senate race for the seat held by outgoing U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, and put $5 million of her own money into the campaign. But she was soon overshadowed by the Senate candidacies of U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, and former Business Council of Alabama President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt. Brooks won Trump's endorsement, while Britt has gotten the backing of several key groups, including the Alabama Farmers Federation.
Blanchard has been a leader of the 100X Development Foundation, which works to reduce poverty around the world. Blanchard and her husband John, a Montgomery real estate developer, have been major financial backers of Trump. According to Federal Election Commission records, Blanchard gave $355,000 to the Trump Victory Fund at the end of 2019.
NBC News reported that the Blanchards gave $2.6 million to Republicans between 2015 and 2019, including a $553,000 donation to Trump's inaugural committee in 2017. Blanchard served as Trump's ambassador to Slovenia from August 2019 through January 2021.
Tim James, a businessman and the son of former Gov. Fob James, announced his candidacy for the Republican gubernatorial nomination on Monday. Other Republican candidates for the office include Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler; correctional officer Stacy George and Dean Odle, a minister from Wetumpka.
Ivey had $2.5 million on hand for her re-election campaign as of last week.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Lynda Blanchard enters Republican race for Alabama governor seat