What might have been?

Published 5:09 am Wednesday, September 30, 2009

By Staff
Steve Flowers
If race was a major issue in 1958, being the racist candidate in 1962 was the only way to be elected governor. With this issue in hand and Wallace’s love for campaigning and remembering names, he would have beaten anybody that year. Big Jim was really no match for Wallace because Big Jim had always been soft on the race issue. He was a true progressive liberal who would not succumb to racial demagoging, but Big Jim had succumbed to alcohol. Leading up to the governor’s race in 1962, while Wallace had been campaigning 12-16 hours a day, 7 days a week for four years, Big Jim sat home. Wallace would have won even if Big Jim had not embarrassed himself on TV the night before elections.
A secondary story developed during the 1962 campaign. A star was born. Ryan De Graffenreid was a smart, handsome, articulate, Tuscaloosa state senator and lawyer. His family had been a prominent Tuscaloosa political family for generations, but young Ryan De Graffenreid truly had the makings of an Alabama governor. However, when he entered the 1962 governor’s race the pundits wrote him off as an also ran. They said it was a Folsom versus Wallace race, but De Graffenreid had charisma and captivated all the silk stocking voters who would be Republicans today. He was quietly moving up in popularity leading up to the May Democratic primary.
Wallace won, but the surprise of the election was that Big Jim finished third. Ryan De Graffenreid came in second and would face Wallace in the runoff. Wallace was elected governor, but De Graffenreid had run a brilliant get acquainted race and a star had been born.
With Wallace out of the race, De Graffenreid appeared invincible. He campaigned tirelessly even though he had only token opposition. It was a cold windy night in February of 1966. He was to make a speech up around Sand Mountain. He had a campaign plane and he and his pilot were advised not to try to make the flight to the event. De Graffenreid refused to stop. He boarded his plane at Ft. Payne and within minutes after takeoff he and his pilot crashed into a mountain and were killed instantly. De Graffenreid would have been governor. The state was in shock. The governor’s race was wide open with less than three months before the primary, which was tantamount to the election.

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