Can state have impact on nominees?

Published 5:16 am Wednesday, January 31, 2007

By Staff
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 back seat 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, scalawaging, 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. &#8220Plain 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 &#8220wet.” He believed in drinking whiskey.
We have fared 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.
To say the least, the original legislation passed last year was flawed. 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.
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 Gov. Bill Richardson among others. It will be fun to watch.
Steve Flowers is a political columnist. He served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at