Republican politicians overwhelmingly favored in state
Published 5:55 am Thursday, December 4, 2008
By By Steve Flowers
Alabamians have established definite trends in our voting patterns. We have made a clear delineation between national and local races. We prefer Republicans for national office and Democrats locally. The state races are somewhere in between.
It is apparent that we are a very red state when it comes to presidential politics. Since 1964 we have voted for the GOP candidate for president ten out of twelve times. We only deviated in 1968 for our native son and Governor George Wallace as a third party candidate and only once for a Democrat when Georgia neighbor Jimmy Carter won the state narrowly in 1976. We voted overwhelmingly for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and we have not looked back. We have voted for the Republican nominee eight straight times, including this November’s landslide vote for John McCain over Barack Obama.
Both of our U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions are Republicans. Sessions won reelection to this third six-year term last month. He was first elected in 1996. Shelby was first elected in 1986 as a Democrat, but switched to the Republican column in 1990 and was subsequently reelected as a Republican in 1992, 1998 and 2004. He is finishing his 22nd year in the U.S. Senate. We currently have seven U.S. Congressmen and four of the seven seats are held by Republicans.
In contrast, when it comes to local offices, the vast majority of positions are held by Democrats. These local Democrats tend to hide their party affiliation during the presidential years. They are generally voted on in non presidential years and run in the more popular gubernatorial year. If you look around your local courthouse you will see that your probate judge and sheriff are Democrats. Your local state representative and state senator are probably Democrats, unless you live in a suburb of a major city or bedrock Republican bedroom county like Shelby, Baldwin or Elmore.
Therefore, the battleground is the Governor’s race. It is a dead even contest and is anybody’s to win. The Democrats and Republicans can count on about 35 percent each for the hardcore party vote in this marquee contest. The 30 percent in the middle make the choice and they basically vote for the person over the party.
This even contest rule applies to most of the secondary office races on the ballot in the Governor’s race years. The offices of Lt. Governor, Treasurer, Secretary of State, Agriculture Commissioner and State Auditor are tossups when it comes to party. However, there is a distinct inherent preference for a female in the three administrative offices of Treasurer, Auditor and Secretary of State. Alabama voters tend to prefer a man for Agriculture Commissioner, and it appears we tend to vote for a Republican for Attorney General.
This tendency to lean towards a Republican for tough law enforcement positions has transcended to our Court races. Alabama voters have clearly stated that they prefer Republicans wearing the judicial robes. We have nineteen State Supreme Court and Appellate Court judgeships and all are elected statewide. Eighteen out of the nineteen are Republicans. All five seats on the Court of Criminal Appeals are held by Republicans and the same is true for the five judges on the Court of Civil Appeals. Eight out of nine Supreme Court Justices are Republican. The lone Democrat is Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb. However, her position is the most powerful because the Chief Justice is also the chief administrator of the State Court System.
Karl Rove, the vaunted Republican political strategist was an important mastermind of helping to wrest the Alabama Courts from Democratic to Republican control. After reviewing polling data and crafting the message and plan for taking over the Alabama Courts, Rove told the business community as he departed for Texas that there are three things Alabamians look for when voting for a State Supreme Court judge. First, they want a candidate that is tough on crime. Second, Alabamians prefer females in judicial positions. In fact, a female candidate has a 5 percent advantage. Finally, the candidate should have an “R” by their name.
The GOP is flexing its fundraising muscle and has already raised $40 million in an effort to take control of the legislature in 2010 the same way they have taken over the courts. However, the Democratic organizations like AEA and the trial lawyers will not sit idly by and be outspent or outworked in the all important legislative races. Remember the old Tip O’Neill political maxim, “all politics is local.”
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at www.steveflowers.us.