Alabama goes very, very red.
Nov 22, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 10 • By FRED BARNES
Jim Folsom Jr., the son of former governor “Kissin’ Jim” Folsom, lost his job as lieutenant governor. He was the top Democratic elected official in Alabama. George Wallace Jr., only son of a famously outspoken Democratic governor who opposed racial integration and later ran for president, didn’t make it to the general election. He ran for state treasurer, as a Republican no less, and lost badly in the June primary.
To say the politics of Alabama have changed doesn’t quite capture it. The wildest dreams of Republicans have come true. They won everything in the November 2 elections: all statewide offices from top to bottom, both houses of the legislature for the first time in 136 years, a U.S. Senate seat, and six of the state’s seven U.S. House seats. The seventh is set aside under the Voting Rights Act as a majority-minority district and elected an African-American Democrat.
The reelection of Republican senator Richard Shelby was so widely accepted, he scarcely had to campaign to win his fifth term. The voters I talked to in Alabama last week couldn’t even remember the name of his Democratic opponent. (For the record, it was William Barnes.) Shelby won by 30 percentage points.
Freddy Ard is the Republican chairman of Shelby County, a Birmingham suburb. When he moved there in 1979, Democrats held every office—state legislators, school board officials, county council members, judges. After the election, Republicans hold all 39 of them.
Alabamans have elected some Republican governors since the 1980s. And state representative Robert Bentley, a dermatologist in private life, defeated Democrat Ron Sparks, 58-42 percent, without breaking a sweat. Bentley’s only struggle was in the Republican primary. He topped Bradley Byrne, the favorite of the business community and the Republican establishment, in a runoff.
The biggest Republican breakthrough was in the legislature, the heart of Democratic power in the state since Reconstruction. The turnaround was dramatic. The senate flipped from 20-to-15 Democratic to 22-to-12 Republican (1 independent). Republicans won 19 house seats, reversing a 60-to-43 Democratic lead (2 vacancies) and giving them a 62-to-43 advantage. Pretty impressive.
The Republican rout was all the more striking because Democrats in seemingly secure legislative seats were soundly beaten. In 2006, 6 of the Democrats who lost this year were unopposed and the other 13 won by an average of 25 percentage points. In the state senate, the losers had won four years ago by an average of 20 percentage points.
Northern Alabama, long influenced by the Tennessee Valley Authority, FDR, and unions, was a Democratic stronghold, with the emphasis on “was.” On Election Day, it became a killing field. Democratic representative John Robinson told Challen Stephens of the Huntsville Times that survivors now “could all ride down [to the capital in Montgomery] in one car.” Fifteen of the 19 Democratic losses in the state house were in northern Alabama.
Democratic powerhouses in the legislature suffered crushing defeats. House majority leader Ken Guin lost, 31-69 percent, to Republican Richard Baughn, a UPS truck driver. “Don’t ever pick on a UPS driver,” Baughn told a Republican gathering. Zeb Little, the Senate majority leader, was defeated by Paul Bussman, a dentist. Lowell Barron, the most powerful of the Democratic “big mules” in the state senate, lost to Shadrack McGill, who runs an auto parts and repairs business.
Democrat Betty Carol Graham, unopposed in 2006, was beaten by Mark Tuggle, who quit his job at Alabama Power to run against her. She’d been in the state house for 16 years and once headed the Alabama Education Association. The teachers’ union is a bulwark of the Democratic party. “She did what [AEA boss] Paul Hubbert told her to do,” Tuggle says. “People told me she’d been there too long.” But no longer.
From top to bottom, the Republican campaign was unusually well organized. State chairman Mike Hubbard raised $5 million for the campaign. Republican candidates focused on three issues: cleaning up corruption in Montgomery, increasing jobs, and resisting encroachments by the federal government.
Republicans were also boosted by national issues and the unpopularity of President Obama. “A good year for Republicans nationally spilled into Alabama,” says Michael New, a political science professor at the University of Alabama. One issue helped the most: Obama’s health care program.
James Anderson, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, vowed to drop out of the lawsuit joined by more than 20 states against Obama-care. “I’m absolutely going to continue the lawsuit,” Republican Luther Strange responded. “We’re going to follow the Constitution.” Strange won the race for attorney general handily.