Race captured state for Repubs.

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Commentary by Steve Flowers

Exactly forty years ago in 1964 Alabama became a Republican state as far as national politics are concerned. The 1964 election was the pivotal turning point when on that November day in 1964 the deep south states of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina voted for Barry Goldwater and never looked back. It was the race issue that won them over.

Goldwater and the Republican party captured the race issue and never let go of it. For this reason, the South which was known as the “Solid South” for more than six decades because they were solidly Democratic are today known as the “Solid South” because they are solidly Republican. In less than two weeks on election night when the national networks show the colored map on the television, the entire South will be colored Republican. The Presidential candidates ignore us during the campaign because it is a foregone conclusion that we will vote Republican. In this same way the Presidential candidates ignored us for the first 60 years of the 20th Century because it was a foregone conclusion that we were going to vote democratic.

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From 1900 to 1964 Alabama voted democratically for President in every election except two, 1928 and 1948. In those years Alabama voted for third paarty candidates like Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond in 1948 and not for a Republican. Out of those 64 years election results were 14 Democrats, zero Republicans, and two Third Party candidates – that’s pretty solidly Democratic. Look what has happened since that eventful 1964 Goldwater breakthrough – in the past 40 years, assuming Bush carries Alabama in this election, there have been 10 Republican wins and one Democratic victory. So to say that 1964 was a pivotal turning point would be an understatement.

In 1964 race was the issue in the South. George Wallace had ridden it into the Governor’s office in 1962. It reached fever pitch in 1964. Democratic President Lyndon Johnson had passed sweeping Civil Rights Legislation which white southerners detested. The only non southern senator to oppose the Civil Rights legislation was Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Later that year when the Republican Paarty met at the old Cow Palace in San Francisco, they nominated Goldwater as their Presidential candidate. Johnson annihilated him nationwide in the Fall of 1964. Johnson and the Democrats carried the nation overwhelmingly in a landslide except in the South. Goldwater won what was referred to as the Southern Goldwater landslide. The South had been totally automatically Democratic all the way down the ballot for President to Coroner for more than six decades. There was no Republican Party in Alabama to speak of. There were no elected Republican office holders. There was no Republican Primary. So, they chose their token candidates in backroom conventions. It was even hard getting someone to admit they were a Republican.

That all changed in 1964. Goldwater and the Republicans were known as the party of Segregation and the white southern voter fled the Democratic Party en-mass. As the Fall election of 1964 approached the talk in the old country stores around Alabama was that a good many good old boys were going to vote straight Republican even if their Daddys did turn over in their graves.

Well, come election day, there were a good many old papas turning over in their graves all over the South. The entire South seemed to change parties on that day.

Alabama had all Democratic Congressmen on that day, most had more than 20 years of seniority and most of them were swept out of office by the straight ticket Republican voting. Alabamians not only voted for Goldwater but also pulled the straight Republican lever out of anger toward Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Plan. Alabama lost more than 100 years of Congressional seniority on that day.

Democrats still hold their own in state level politics. The Governor’s race has been tit-for-tat over the past 20 years, and Democrats still dominate the county offices such as Probate Judge and Sheriff and they still control the Legislature. When it comes to Presidential politics, the Republican Party has wrestled control of Alabama. It all happened on a Fall day 40 years ago.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers writes a weekly syndicated column on Alabama politics. He served 16 years in the Alabama House of Representatives. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.