The last three decades have found Alabama overlooked in the entire presidential election contest, from the primary process through Election Day.
For years, Alabama’s primary has been too late in the cycle to have any real impact on the directions of the races for the Democratic and Republican presidential nomination.
Prior to 2008, the state’s contest was held in the summer, long after many of the candidates had dropped out, thus giving Alabamians little incentive to vote in the primary.
In 2008, the powerbrokers in Alabama politics recognized this trend and sought a way to give the state more of a voice in the process by the moving the primary date from June to February.
The shift still wasn’t quite enough to lure the remaining candidates to spend a lot of time in state, but it did allow for a much more interesting narrative that motivated more voters to go to the polls. What probably wasn’t accounted for at the time was a candidate like Mike Huckabee, who would rally social conservatives before primary day, which made it harder for the eventual nominee, Sen. John McCain, to prevail.
In 2012, Alabama and Mississippi teamed up to have their Republican primary election on the same day, settling on a slightly later March date. The strategy forced the remaining Republican candidates at the time, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and eventual-nominee Mitt Romney, to spend time and money in the states.
Santorum would go on to win both primaries, but the lesson there was there was power in numbers — especially since, despite having smaller populations than some states, Alabama and Mississippi have been loyal Republican states with Republicans holding key offices in both the national and statewide level.
Last month, the secretaries of state of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia offered up an expansion of the idea there is power in numbers.
For the 2016 presidential primary contest, the idea would be to create a “southern super primary” by holding the Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama primaries on the same day or close to the same day.
“A southern Super Tuesday, or ‘SEC primary’ as some are calling it, would greatly increase the importance of the Southeastern states to presidential hopefuls,” the recently elected John Merrill for Alabama’s secretary of state wrote in an op-ed for Yellowhammer News. “This consolidated Election Day would separate the South for the same reason that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and other states receive national attention. The main goal of this effort is to create an environment that forces candidates to appeal to an even larger and more complete constituency than they currently do.”
If they successfully pull it off, such a move would have a profound effect on the process.
Over the last few election cycles, there has undoubtedly been an effort by the so-called Republican establishment to dilute the influence of the more conservative elements of the party. The fact that a state like New Hampshire has an early primary is part of the reason the more moderate elements of the GOP have had success in getting Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney nominated.
The electorate in New Hampshire has made it harder for so-called conservative firebrands to get far into the process. Once New Hampshire selects its candidate, regardless of what happens in Iowa, those with the deep pockets tend to behind the more “establishment” figure and that makes it a very difficult task for those banking on rally conservatives in later primaries to mount a challenge.
Let’s say, however, there are potentially 400 delegates in the balance for a so-called “SEC primary.” That would be enough to tilt the balance of the contest by making the pool of candidates more conservative or give the more conservative candidate a better chance of going deeper into the primary fight.
This would especially be true for the more socially conservative candidates. In early southern primaries over the last two cycles, the social conservative bon fides of Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum earned statewide victories.
It wouldn’t necessarily discount the need to do well in Iowa, New Hampshire and even South Carolina, however.
In 2008, Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani gambled on waiting on the later Florida primary, where he put most of his resources. But, having no momentum or the media attention coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire, the delay was too much of an obstacle for Giuliani to overcome.
It would also potentially create more awkward situations like Mitt Romney touting “cheesy grits” and awkward pronunciations of “y’all” on the eve of the 2012 Alabama and Mississippi primaries. On the Democrat side, moments like Hillary Clinton’s attempt to impersonate an African-American preacher in Selma in 2007.
The point is that candidates pandering in such way is symbolic of the larger aim, which is to be aware of what voters in Alabama desire in a candidate, which would hopefully translate into better representation should they be elected president.
As for the actual presidential election, the state had a short-lived era as a swing state as it transitioned from an electorally blue Democrat state to solidly red Republican. But after the 2010 election, the transition was completed when the GOP ended 136 years of Democrat control of the state legislature.