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Monday, September 22, 2008

Does Race Still Permeate Alabama Politics? You Betcha

We are a little more than six weeks from the presidential election, and a new poll makes it painfully clear how big a role race still plays in Alabama politics.

A new poll from the Capital Survey Research Center shows that Democratic candidate Barack Obama has the support of only 16 percent of whites in Alabama.

Republican John McCain has 73 percent of the white vote, giving him a 55 to 35 percent lead overall.

These numbers come as McCain is trying to follow a Republican president who has presided over one of the worst and most corrupt administrations in history.

It's enough to make any rational person scratch his head. But William H. Stewart, University of Alabama professor emeritus of political science, says no one should be surprised by the numbers. Many white Alabamians identify with the Republican "brand" in presidential elections. But that brand seems to be built largely on race.

"Alabama's intense racism has played a significant role in the state's history, and racism is still part of our fabric as a state, not as pronounced as it once was, thank goodness, but it still exists and it will play a role in the election," Stewart said.

The Birmingham News noted that even former House majority leader Dick Armey earlier this month recognized the "Bubba vote."

"The Bubba vote is there, and it's very real, and it is everywhere," the former Republican congressman from Texas said. "There's an awful lot of people in America, bless their heart, who simply are not emotionally prepared to vote for a black man."

Is there hope for Alabama? If there is, it probably is best embodied by Rep. James Fields, who is black and defeated a white Republican in overwhelmingly white Cullman County for a seat in the Alabama Legislature. Some called that win a miracle. Fields does not

"Could I have won 10 years ago? Twenty years ago? Maybe not. But today isn't 10 years ago," Fields said. "I'm not from somewhere else. I'm an Alabamian. I've worked side-by-side with whites, gone to school with whites, roomed with whites, preached to and prayed with whites. People know who I am, what I stand for and they don't have to depend on labels alone like Democrat or black guy."

Fields said Obama likely won't win in Alabama.

"He will lose first because he's a Democrat running in a state in a presidential election year that hasn't seen Alabamians vote for a Democrat in 32 years," Fields said. "Second, he won't lose because he's just black, he's black with an Islamic-sounding name. If he was Charles Smith, his race wouldn't matter as much. But in Southern Baptist Alabama, the name is a problem."

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