Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: GOP presidential primary amounts to little in Alabama

  Last month’s Republican Primary was exciting because for the first time in decades we were relevant in the presidential contest. When our March 13 primary date was set it was thought that the GOP nominee would be in the bag by that time, especially given the fact that a Super Tuesday Primary extravaganza was taking place one week earlier on March 6th.

  It has been an interesting race on two fronts. First of all, most followers of presidential races have never seen such an ebb and flow in frontrunners like this year’s GOP marathon. It is almost like a flavor of the month kaleidoscope. First, Michelle Bachman jumped out front, and then came Texas Governor Rick Perry with rugged Marlboro man looks and an impeccable Southern conservative pedigree. He amazingly faltered right out of the gate. After Perry’s demise, Herman Cain grabbed the spotlight and led in the polls for several months. He fell and his fellow Georgian, Newt Gingrich, grabbed the lead for a short while. Now, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has garnered the religious right’s favor and is the current darling of the evangelical and Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. [Editor's note: Santorum suspended his campaign yesterday, April 10, prior to the submission of this article.] Romney has remained the candidate of the moderate, pro-business, Wall Street wing of the Party. His mainstream platform and business background has attracted the big money.

  That brings up the second point. This year will see a record amount of money raised and spent in the presidential race. Armed with a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that declares that under the First Amendment there is no limit to how much money an individual, labor union, or corporation can give to a PAC, the money is flowing into Super PACs. These Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited funds and unleash negative ads without saying who they support or who is paying for and directing these ads. You will continue to see these Super PACs proliferate throughout the year. Total expenditure records for a presidential race will easily be eclipsed.

  The week before our primary saw Romney, Santorum and Gingrich crisscrossing the state. Our airwaves were filled with TV ads, over half of which were negative.

  Another interesting twist was that throughout the year our polling numbers have pretty much mirrored the race nationally, even though we are more conservative. Whenever one of the aforementioned candidates got hot throughout the country our polling in Alabama reflected the same results. The one constant is that throughout the entire campaign Mitt Romney has either been in first place or a close second to the current hot flavor of the month candidate.

  Polling indicates that there is an intense desire among GOP and all conservative Americans to beat Barack Obama. There is a fervor to derail Obama’s liberal agenda. There will be a coalescing among conservatives around the Republican nominee whoever that person may be in the fall. In fact, that same polling reveals that most GOP primary voters made their choice of who they voted for in the primary on who they thought could best beat Obama.

  However, this was not totally true of Alabama voters on March 13. We in the Deep South are more religious than the rest of the nation. CNN reported early in the day that exit polling in Alabama’s primary revealed an unusually large number of evangelical fundamentalist voters participating in our GOP Primary. This revelation proved accurate as the votes began to trickle in. By 10 pm it was apparent that they were not just whistlin’ Dixie.

  We are not called the Bible Belt for nothing. Most voters in the country are concerned with the economy. That is not necessarily true in Alabama, at least among those who participate in the Republican presidential primary. Our GOP primary voters are more interested in social issues than who has a job. The Religious Right rules in GOP presidential voting in the Heart of Dixie. The right wing social conservative candidate, Rick Santorum, carried the primary with 35% of the vote. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich finished with 29% each. Under our proportional allocation system, all three will get about the same number of delegates.

  It was fun having relevance and being part of the presidential selection process on March 13. However, under the Electoral College system of selecting a president rather than electing one, sadly we will not be a part of the process. It is a foregone conclusion that we will vote for the GOP presidential standard bearer. Therefore, the party nominees will ignore us in the fall but it was fun while it lasted.

  See you next week.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at

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