How whites turned Alabama red because of a black president
The election of Obama, and white Alabamans’ visceral distaste for the president (88 percent voted against him in 2008), created a massive shift in the state’s politics. For many years, white voters had often split their tickets, voting Republican in federal and gubernatorial contests but sticking with the Democrats in legislative campaigns. Hubbard realized that, by nationalizing Alabama’s 2010 state races and putting Obama on center stage, he could bring that to an end. Hubbard himself had always been careful never to speak in explicitly racial terms. (Not all of his Republican colleagues were so circumspect. In 2010, a state senator named Scott Beason was caught on a wiretap referring to black Alabamans as “aborigines.”) Now, he didn’t need to explicitly invoke race—he only needed to mention Obama. As the state GOP put it in one ad, “After 136 years, the Democrats have brought us Obama, Pelosi, government health care, liberal policies, higher taxes, and wasteful spending.”Suddenly, even entrenched white Democrats like Lowell Barron, who’d been in the Senate for 28 years, found themselves in trouble. “People weren’t voting against me in 2010, they were voting against that black man in the White House,” says Barron. “They were pretty specific about it, only they didn’t refer to him as a black man.” Some Republicans concede as much. “Anybody who denies that Barack Obama’s unpopularity in Alabama didn’t help Republicans come to power is just not being truthful about it,” Republican State Senator Cam Ward told me.The transformation of Alabama politics was nearly instantaneous. Prior to the 2010 election, the Alabama House had 60 Democratic members, 34 of them white and 26 black. Afterward, there were 36 Democrats—ten white, 26 black. Meanwhile, in the Alabama Senate, the number of black Democrats remained seven, while the number of white Democrats fell from 13 to four.