Alabama's backseat presidential politics

Published 6:23 pm Wednesday, January 31, 2007

By By Steve Flowers
Alabama has never really played much of a role in selecting the candidates that are the Democratic or Republican Party's nominees for President. We have historically pretty much taken a backseat when it comes to Presidential politics.
For a century from 1870 to 1970 we were a one party state along with the rest of the South. The harsh Reconstruction carpet bagging, scalywagging, republican vindictiveness toward the South following the Civil War had made an indelible impression on our forefathers and the backlash lasted about 100 years. We voted straight Democratic so both parties pretty much ignored us. Therefore, our participation was more symbolic and colorful than meaningful.
Up until 1960 the parties selected their nominees in conventions. Our most significant contribution may have come in 1928 when the National Democratic Convention was in a stalemate over the selection of a candidate. Through days of balloting the convention could not produce a nominee who could get the required majority for the nomination. It is now political lore that the booming deep south accented Gov. "Plain Bill" Brandon would lead off the balloting since Alabama was first to announce because roll was called alphabetically. He declared the State of Alabama casts all its votes for our favorite son, Oscar W. Underwood. The radio listeners all over the country loved hearing him draw out every syllable with southern charm. Underwood was our favorite son as we were trying to use what little leverage we could to get some power.
New Yorker, Al Smith, eventually became the nominee. It is almost unbelievable that in 1928 Alabamians were so entrenched in voting Democratic that they cast their votes for Smith although he was a liberal New Yorker who was a Catholic and was a "wet." He believed in drinking whiskey.
We have faired even worse since the parties began choosing their nominees with primaries. Smaller states like New Hampshire have locked down the early February dates and have gotten inordinate power in selecting the Presidential nominees. We have our presidential preference primary on the same date as our regular primary in June. By that time the nominee has pretty much been chosen and our nine electoral votes are not earthshaking.
Last year the Legislature decided to change our back row status by enacting legislation which will move our presidential primary up to early February in 2008. However, the legislation which passed on the last night was flawed. It set the presidential primary on February 5th. Bad idea. That is Mardi Gras day which is a state holiday. It may not be a big day for most of Alabama but it is a very big day in Mobile and Baldwin County. It is a holiday and a tourist event in Mobile with tens of thousands of people jamming the streets with businesses closed for carnival parades.
In addition, there was also a glitch in the bill that called for all offices to be on the ballot that day. February 5th is too early for all races and the bill also left the runoff on June 24th. Can you imagine there being a lag of 4 ? months between the primary and runoff?
To say the least, the original legislation passed last year was flawed. It will be revisited early in the upcoming Regular Session. The idea is a good one because if we can be one of the early primary states we will see the major candidates from each party. It will be a refreshing and exciting change of events. If the Legislature can successfully amend the primary date bill this year then maybe Alabama can have some impact on the presidential process for the first time.
Speaking of seeing the candidates, Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential frontrunner is definitely taking Alabama seriously. He has been here so often he could almost claim residency. He was recently in attendance at Gov. Riley's Inauguration.
The Democratic face cards are also showing their hands early. Frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are in the race as are John Edwards, Sen. Chris Dodd, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson among others. It will be fun to watch.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at <>.

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