In March 1986, incumbent George Wallace announced that he would not seek a fifth term as governor, ending an era in Alabama politics. Many people anticipated that the winner of the Democratic primary would win the election. Though Alabama had supported Republicans in national elections, state and local elections were dominated by Democrats.
The Democratic Primary in this election brought out a number of candidates. It resulted in a runoff between Lieutenant Governor Bill Baxley and Attorney General Charles Graddick. Graddick, the more conservative candidate, won the runoff election by a slim margin. Baxley challenged the results, and claimed that Graddick violated Democratic Party rules by encouraging people who voted in the Republican primary to cross over and vote in the Democratic runoff election. While Republicans in the state have held open primaries for years, the Democratic primaries bar registered Republicans and Independents from voting in its election. This challenge went to the Alabama Supreme Court that ruled that crossover voting had taken place in large numbers, and ruled that the Democratic Party either had to select Baxley as the nominee or hold another runoff election. The party opted to name Baxley as the nominee.