The presidential race has begunPublished 11:00pm Thursday, June 23, 2011
The month of June in Alabama has seen the culmination of one of the most productive legislative sessions in state history, the beginning of a sensational gambling trial and record breaking sweltering heat.
Next year will be an election year but it is a presidential election year, which is not the big year for Alabama voters. Historically we have not gotten too excited about presidential politics. This is probably because we have never been a factor.
For close to 100 years we were a reliably Democratic state. If the Democratic Party nominated a yellow dog for president we would vote for him. Ever since 1964 we have been a rock solid Republican state. Today we are considered one of the safest Republican states in America. The Republican nominee has carried Alabama in the last nine presidential contests going back 36 years. It is a pretty safe bet that the GOP nominee will carry Alabama next year. Indeed if the Republicans fielded a yellow dog as their presidential nominee that dog would beat Barack Obama in Alabama. Therefore, you will not see Obama or the GOP standard bearer campaigning in the Heart of Dixie next fall.
When our forefathers set up the state voting process in 1901, they intuitively knew that we would be more interested in state politics than national. They put almost all of the important and high profile posts on the ballot in gubernatorial years. In 2014, along with the governor’s race, all seven constitutional offices will be up for election and all 140 legislative seats will be on the ballot along with all 67 sheriffs. Next year’s 2012 state ballot will only have a few judges and county commissioners. Therefore, it did not raise much ire or controversy when the legislature voted to move next year’s primaries from June to March.
The state has traditionally held primaries on the first Tuesday in June. In 2008 the legislature moved Alabama’s presidential primary to February in hopes of luring presidential contenders to the state. It was not a success. Very few came to court us. This move to combine the presidential primary and regular primary to one March date will save the state $4 million. Rep. Steve Clouse of Ozark spearheaded and sponsored this legislative move to save money.
The presidential race has begun with or without Alabama. President Obama will be the Democratic nominee. He is a prolific campaigner. His fundraising prowess is remarkable. His campaign set records in 2008 and 2012 will be unparalleled, especially given the fact that he is the incumbent president. His field organization and ability to use today’s state of the art technology to get out his base vote is truly astounding. However, he will have to weather a recalcitrant economy. Obama won because of the economy and may lose because of it. James Carville’s admonition to Bill Clinton still rings true, “It’s the economy stupid.”
Although he may not be the favorite in Alabama, Mitt Romney is the frontrunner to be the GOP nominee. Given the economic condition of the country and the fact that Romney’s forte is economics, he stacks up well against Obama for 2012. He is probably the best horse the GOP could field to beat Obama. He is not considered a right wing ideologue and will not be considered a fringe candidate by the independent voters who decide the presidential election.
Candidates like Ron Paul, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich might appeal to very conservative Republican primary voters and will do well in the Southern primaries. However, none of these people can win a national election. Most mainstream independent voters in the important Midwest swing states perceive them as extreme.
Romney is absolutely the frontrunner. He has raised more money than all of the other announced candidates combined. He raised an amazing $10 million in a one day phone-a-thon in May. Every day he stays in the lead he will be able to quietly amass more big money and continue to swamp the field in the chase for precious campaign dollars.
Romney’s experience as a corporate executive and the leader who turned around the troubled 2002 Olympics makes him well suited to an electorate concerned first and foremost with the economy. However, his Achilles heel among GOP primary voters is his time as Governor of Massachusetts when he enacted a health care law similar to Obamacare. He is vulnerable on this issue. In addition, his Mormon faith is viewed with suspicion by some evangelical Christians but these same folks believe that Obama is a Muslim. Come next November, if the choice that evangelicals have is between a Mormon Republican or a Muslim Democrat, Romney wins.
Steve Flowers served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.