In the waning days of every presidential election cycle, we’re inundated with the notion that there is a large swath of “undecided swing voters” candidates must win over before Election Day.
But it’s just not any undecided swing voter. These are swing voters within certain precincts in states that could go in either the Republican or Democratic column come Nov. 8.
Historically these precincts have included the Philadelphia suburbs of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, almost any county outside of Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati in Ohio and what is called the “I-4 corridor,” which stretches from Tampa through Orlando to the Atlantic across the Florida peninsula.
The suggestion: As goes [insert aforementioned squishy middle voting area here], so goes the nation.
Alabama is not one of these swing areas and hasn’t been since the beginning of the end of the yellow dog Democrats in the middle of the last century.
Beginning with the Barry Goldwater-Lyndon Johnson presidential election in 1964, Alabama has been reliably Republican, with two exceptions — the 1968 contest when it went for segregationist Gov. George Wallace over Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, and in 1976 when it went for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford.
That doesn’t mean Alabama is completely inconsequential in American presidential politics, as we’ve learned this presidential cycle with the flurry of visits over the past eight months from both Republican and Democratic candidates, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and celebrity billionaire Donald Trump on the Republican side.
All the GOP candidates are vying for delegates in the contests surrounding the so-called SEC primary.
Closer to home, there’s another geographic electoral phenomenon happening — a so-called Republican primary swing area crossing state lines in what appears to be the creation of what could be called the “I-10 corridor.”
From the New Orleans suburb of Slidell, Louisiana, all the way along Interstate 10, perhaps all the way to Jacksonville, Florida, is an area that’s reliably Republican but a mix of rural Christian conservative voters and voters in urban and suburban areas who arguably tend to base their votes on fiscal and economic issues.
Perhaps that’s why GOP front-runner Donald Trump has hosted rallies all along I-10, including in Pensacola last week, Biloxi earlier this month and Mobile back in August.
All of those events drew huge attendance numbers for Trump, including the Pensacola event last week. Former Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Florida), now the host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” said Trump’s Pensacola rally was unlike any he’d ever seen.
“I was at George W. Bush’s campaign rally in 2004, at the final stages of that unbelievable presidential race in early November,” Scarborough said on his MSNBC show last week. “I saw Reagan come to Pensacola twice in 1980. I saw the crowds. I never saw anything like that in my hometown before. It’s absolutely staggering, here we are — in early January. I’ll be honest with you — I guess seeing it in your own hometown, I don’t get it as far as the size of these crowds go. It’s like nothing I saw with Reagan. It’s like nothing I saw with Bush. It’s nothing I saw with any political candidate what I saw come out of Pensacola last night.”
It hasn’t been only Trump. Others that have drawn impressive crowds (although not quite as big as Trump’s) in the area in this election cycle have been Sen. Ted Cruz in Daphne last month and Ben Carson at the University of South Alabama back in November.
Think of it as a primary within a number of state GOP primaries that defy state boundaries. Although the Mississippi Gulf Coast, southwest Alabama and northwest Florida all participate in different elections and are controlled by different state capitals, those voters along I-10 arguably have a lot more in common with one another than they do with their counterparts in the other parts of their respective states.
They share common TV and radio markets, newspapers and a love for the New Orleans Saints, have economies in which coastal tourism plays a primary role and the public schools are dismissed for Mardi Gras. In addition to that, they are often thought of as the black-sheep regions of their states that haven’t been as traditionally socially dogmatic as the rest of the state, as is the case with Mississippi and Alabama, or as affluent and cosmopolitan as the rest of the state, as is the case with Florida.
However, their populations are significant enough that they can’t be completely disregarded. Mobile, the largest city in the region, sitting geographically right in the center, is poised to lead the way in what could be this new phenomenon, of which it could be said, “As the I-10 corridor goes, so goes the Republican presidential primary.”