Alabama’s political shift was unprecedented

Published 5:32pm Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The greatest partisan change in American political history has occurred during my lifetime. The transformation of Alabama and our sister Deep South states from an all-Democratic region to an all-Republican territory has been remarkable and historic.

Exactly 50 years ago today, Alabama’s entire delegation in Washington was Democratic. Democrats held all seven constitutional offices. Every member of the Supreme Court ran as a Democrat. Sixty-six out of 67 sheriffs were Democrats and 138 of 140 members of the legislature were Democrats.

Fast-forward 50 years to October of 2013. You see just the opposite picture. All seven executive constitutional offices, including governor, are held by Republicans. Every member of the Supreme Court and all 10 appellate judges are Republican. Six of our seven congressmen are Republican and both U.S. Senators are stalwart members of the GOP. Both the State House of Representatives and our State Senate are overwhelmingly Republican. That is quite a change.

This titanic shift began in the fall of 1964, when Republican Barry Goldwater carried the Heart of Dixie. He not only broke the ice, he shattered the Democratic hold on the South. When it comes to presidential politics, we are the most reliable Republican region of the country.

Since the Goldwater landslide of 1964, the GOP candidate for president has carried Alabama in every presidential election, with the exception of 1968 when George Wallace won the state as an independent and 1976 when Georgia Democrat peanut farmer Jimmy Carter carried the state. It has been 37 years since a Democrat carried Alabama. In the last 50 years, the score is Republicans 11 and Democrats 1.

I am not saying the Democratic Party is dead. However, the odds of a Democrat winning a statewide race in Alabama would have the same odds as Tulane beating Alabama in football.

The Democrats failed to even field a single candidate in our Supreme Court races in 2012. It looks like the same thing will occur this year. Our sister southern state of Louisiana had no Democratic statewide candidates for their constitutional offices in 2012.

However, some of our southern neighbors are seeing some brave souls seek statewide offices as Democrats in the upcoming 2014 elections. In Georgia, the daughter of their last Democratic U.S. Senator is seeking her father’s former seat as a Democrat. Sam Nunn was a very popular long term Senator from Georgia, the last of his breed of conservative Democrats from the South. His daughter Michelle Nunn is running a serious campaign. She is working to portray herself as a moderate to conservative candidate to Georgia’s rural voters who are overwhelmingly Republican. She takes heart in the fact that Atlanta is now a cosmopolitan melting pot. It has one of the largest gay communities in America and its significant African-American population makes it a Democratic target in future years. In fact, Obama only lost Georgia by five percentage points in 2012.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Secretary of State, is taking a similar approach in her attempt to knock off U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In Arkansas, former Rep. Mike Ross is running for governor of Arkansas as a Democrat and is given an outside chance since popular Republican Governor Mike Beebe is retiring.

South Carolina boasts of being the most Republican state in the country. However, Vincent Sheehan is running against incumbent Republican governor Nikki Haley. He ran against Haley four years ago and lost by 60,000 votes, or about 5 percent. South Carolina voters fall almost exactly along racial lines, with most whites voting Republican and most blacks voting Democratic.

All of these southern Democratic candidates are striving to distance themselves from President Barack Obama and the national Democratic Party. They are stressing their lifelong roots in their respective states and portraying themselves as real southerners. They are also focusing on bread and butter issues and trying to sell themselves as problem solvers. These folks are facing an uphill battle in the Deep South. We will see.

See you next week.

 

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in more than 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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