Inside Alabama’s Political Slide From Democrat-Controlled to Far-Red State

By | March 11, 2012

On Tuesday, the Republican Presidential primary will receive the ultimate test in irrelevance…Alabama and Mississippi vote. Arguably, the two most conservative and poverty-stricken states in the country are what are known as “outlier” states. Meaning they’re so far in one direction they’re not a great indication of what the entire country is thinking. Using the two states MOST people associate with the deep South as any kind-of bellwether about what the country is thinking is a lot like using Kirk Cameron to tell you what most of Hollywood thinks about gay marriage.

And yet, I’m not sure that Alabama is really as disconnected from the rest of the country as others might make it out to be. [Mississippi I’ll give you as it’s the one state I’ve ever stepped foot in that has NO cities whatsoever; No Birmingham, no Huntsville, no Montgomery, no Mobile, not even a Tuscaloosa.] For one thing, until about twenty years ago, it would have been considered a blue state.

Now I don’t mean that Alabama has overnight become a nightmare conservative scenario after centuries of liberalism. I just mean that the Democrats pretty firmly controlled almost everything in the state from The Civil War all the way up to the Civil Rights era. [Alabamians avoid the words “Civil” Anything like the plague.] In fact, it was only in 2010 that the Republicans gained control of all three branches of state government, and boy did that ever. I don’t think it was entirely a coincidence that after “President Black Panther” got into the White House, the Alabama legislature became VERY white and passed the toughest anti-immigration bill in the country even though our illegal immigrant population doesn’t exist compared to California or Arizona.

For all the non-stop jabbering about religion, Alabama has never actually been out front on any wacky abortion bills or gay marriage legislation. Usually, the craziest legislation regarding religion comes out of Mid-Western hellholes like Kansas or North Dakota. No, what really turned Alabama fully, irrevocably red was, predictably, race. In fact, there are a lot of old school New Deal Democrats in Alabama that look back with a lot of fondness for the FDR years, and would gladly vote for Bill Clinton again if given a chance. [Of course, it’s worth noting that Clinton never won Alabama when he was actually on the ballot, so maybe people in Alabama just like nostalgia more than anything else.]

So now they’ll get their say in this year’s presidential primary before New York, Texas, or California, making this one of the few things we get before they do. And we’ll predictably vote for Santorum because he’s not Mormon (although some have expressed reservations because he’s Catholic, but that’s just how far things have fallen for WASPs).

Still…the state was a lot more relevant when it was Democratic and making the deciding case in those primaries. Nobody really cares if a far-rightwing state votes for a guy who can’t possibly win, but they sure did a few years back when it was the primary between Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy.

In fact, before Alabama (and most of the South) went fully red, the South was very influential in the Democratic primaries as the last three Democrat presidents before Obama were from the South (LBJ, Carter, Clinton). The more red Alabama becomes, the less power it has, and that’s a pretty good metaphor for voting Republican in the first place.

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