South vote: candidates, study your history
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''I had the mind-set (that) you have to be a Democrat to win.'' He quickly identifies himself as a Reagan Republican.Skip to next paragraph
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President Reagan is considered to have a good chance of carrying the state again, in a race against Walter Mondale, who won the endorsement from Joe Reed's black political organization, the Alabama Democratic Conference. John Glenn might be doing better, and hopes to pull ahead in the primary race with the help of television ads just beginning. But some people who like Senator Glenn like President Reagan better, Alabama pollster Natalie Davis says. And there are many Democrats who vote Republican for president and Democratic for lower offices, records show. Republicans can vote in the Democratic primary, and vice versa.
The state's steel mills and auto-related factories make Alabama economically more akin to the Northeast than, say, to Mississippi. Organized labor is an important factor in the state.
All this helps show what a kaleidoscope Alabama politics presents to anyone trying to win elections here. It shows what Alabama historian Don Dodd calls ''the multifaceted nature of the South.''
And he cites examples of how the past influences the present. The ''legacy'' of racism is still quite visible, he says, on the part of some blacks as well as whites. And a degree of ''double standards'' for women - an underestimation of their ability - continues, he says.
''Alabama is not totally conservative or totally liberal,'' says Anne Permaloff, an associate political-science professor at Auburn University's Montgomery campus.
''You get everthing from the most die-hard reactionary racists in the world . . . to liberals,'' says her husband, Carl Grafton, a political-science professor on the same campus.
And this wide variety of political feelings may be found not only within the same region of the state, but in the same person, he says. Someone may be ''an extreme economic liberal but a civil-liberties conservative,'' he says.
Overlying all this is the presence of one man in the governorship for the better part of the past two decades: George Wallace, now in his fourth, though not consecutive, term as governor, made a fairly liberal start in public life. But when he was first elected governor in 1962, he promised at his inauguration to enforce ''segregation now - segregation tomorrow - segregation forever.'' Yet in 1982, he eagerly sought - and obtained - crucial black support.
Clearly the increase in numbers of black registered voters, mostly after the legislation of the 1960s, has given blacks considerable political clout in Alabama and across the South.
But has Governor Wallace really changed his thinking, or just his tactics? Just how much political clout do blacks in Alabama have today.
And what is life like, politically and otherwise, in the 40 percent of the state that is rural? How much of the old South survives in those areas? These questions will be covered in the next articles of this series.
Next: Courthouse politics in one of the nation's poorest counties.