Republican upset in deep south poll

THE RESULT of the Alabama straw poll was such a surprise that it left state dignitaries smiling at their Southern "difference" and sent reporters scurrying to rewrite their headlines. While George W Bush confirmed his standing as front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in Iowa two weeks ago, he did less well when Alabama Republicans delivered their verdict this weekend in the first poll of its kind to be held in the South.

Birmingham, Alabama, a sprawling industrial city once known for steel and violent racial conflicts, is the very antithesis of Ames, the farm- belt college town that stages the Iowa straw poll. Where Ames had verdant fields and spacious marquees bursting with free sustenance, Alabama's Republicans thronged into the baking concrete of the brutalist civic centre, where the coffee and fries - which they had to pay for - soon ran out.

And where Ames had a full slate of candidates - bar the maverick Senator John McCain - all of them intent on throwing their dollars at an election more than a year away, Birmingham had but two national candidates: the black preacher and popular television show host, Alan Keyes, and Orrin Hatch, the long-time Utah Senator, who had distinguished himself a year before by trying to persuade President Clinton to admit his sins with Monica Lewinsky to avoid impeachment months before he was forced to confess.

Birmingham also had Angel Rocker, a local black activist and self-help advocate, who drew much applause and laughter, but polled only six votes. The other candidates all stayed away. They were either on holiday or campaigning elsewhere. Mr Bush was in the next state, Georgia, but did not deign to make the slight diversion from his plans. "This was never for the media or the candidates, it was for the Alabama Republicans," said the party chairman, Winton Blount, who professed himself delighted with the 3,000- strong turnout. It was, the organisers said, the biggest gathering of Republicans ever in the state.

The stars may not have graced the Birmingham civic centre, but Alabama's Republicans did their level best. They opened proceedings with a street parade, complete with band, cheerleaders and four real live elephants, trucked in from a circus in Illinois, which stood benignly to greet participants as they arrived, and then give rides to their children. The city's police, equipped with bicycle helmets against any elephant indiscipline, looked on warily.

Inside the hall, there was all the paraphernalia of the political rally. A (white) jazz bandplayed "Happy days are here again" at key moments and stalls sold the jokey political junk at which America excels. Sweatshirts with a Clinton profile and the legend: "So many interns; so little time." Little bottles of "Monica mouthwash" to "gargle away the DNA". Baby's bibs inscribed: "Future Republican President", and car bumper stickers: "Kevorkian for White House physician" (after the now-jailed euthanasia advocate). And brooches, scarves, T-shirts, bags, everything with the Republicans' elephant motif.

This was an almost exclusively white gathering; black Republicans are few and far between in the Republican Party anywhere and in the South they are still fewer. But the few blacks there were, several of them en famille, and decked out in American flags, socialised easily with the rest. Sherrill Williams, a self-employed financial analyst who had driven 200 miles from the small town in the south-east of the state said he had been welcomed. "The Republican Party represents my priorities," he said.

If the organisers were content, many participants were disappointed that Mr Bush and the rest had not shown up in a state that sees itself as the "bell-wether of the South".

The system of presidential primaries, which begins in Iowa and New Hampshire, skews the selection process in favour of the north and east, even though the political and economic clout of the South has grown exponentially in the past decade.

The Republican Party in the South has advanced at the same time. The Alabama straw poll was a first attempt to claim more influence for the South, and - enthusiastic participants insisted - certainly not the last. A hall that had listened attentively to the three candidates who were present and lauded their oratory, sustained its defiance.

Those who voted at Birmingham rewarded their two national guests. Mr Keyes, the black fundamentalist, topped the poll; his overwhelmingly white audience, as Pam Ward, a delegate, said, "liked his message and the way he delivered it". Mr Hatch came second, pushing Mr Bush unexpectedly into third place. It was, said Mr Blount, "a vote of Southern courtesy, a vote that said thank-you for showing up". But it was also a warning, however mild, that the South's voters cannot be taken for granted.

Alabama Results

Alan Keyes: TV talk show host and fundamentalist preacher - 500 votes

Orrin Hatch: Upright Mormon and presidential aspirant who takes his politics seriously - 458

George W Bush: Front-running centrist, damned by his absence and equivocation - 421

Gary Bauer: Moral majority with the moralism toned down - 124

Elizabeth Dole: Political wife tapping the women's vote - 71

Steve Forbes: Billionaire publisher out to "buy" the presidency - 43

Pat Buchanan: TV debater and right-winger wavering about leaving the party - 42

Dan Quayle: Bush snr's vice-president, damned by his spelling gaffe - 22

Angel Rocker: Local black activist trying to join the mainstream - 6

Suggested Topics

Arts and Entertainment
JJ Abrams' seventh Star Wars, The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of Episode VII has gone online after weeks of anticipation
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General


£35000 - £40000 per annum + £90k OTE uncapped, Mob: h2 Recruit Ltd: CORPORATE ...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager -Healthcare Software-£70,000 OTE

£40000 - £60000 per annum + £60,000 OTE+Car+Mobile: h2 Recruit Ltd: Business D...

Cancer Research UK: Volunteer Area Manager Mentor/Coach

Voluntary : Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for volunteers who will use thei...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game