If you want to know what's happened to the Republican Party in the Deep South - the GOP's land of hope during the Nixon years - take a look at Fob James and Charlie Graddick.
Just two years ago, James was one of the party's leading fund-raisers and a member of the GOP state executive committee.Just four years ago, Graddick eas elected district attorney in Mobile as a Republican.
Today, they're born-again Democrats with a better-than-even chance of being elected to two of this state's highest offices.
James, a football All-America who made a fortune selling barbells, shocked political experts here by finishing first in the Democratic gubernatorial primary and is favored to win a runoff election tomorrow.
Graddick shocked the same experts by winning the Democratic primary for attorney general and also faces a runoff. He had waged a one-note, gut-level campaign, reminiscent of the racial politics of the Old South. His issue: capital punishment.
Graddick calls himself a "man of convictions" who will lock up criminals and see to it that murderers and rapists get the electric chair. "I'll fry them until their eyeballs pop out and smoke comes out their ears," he told one reporter - a statement he now denies making.
Why did Graddick and James switch parties?
"The conventional wisdom is that a Republican couldn't win in a statewide race in Alabama," said state GOP Chairman William Harris. "I can't say it's something I'm very happy about.
"I've always said Alabama is a no-party state. By philosophy, Alabamians are Republican.They just don't know it yet."
James' opponent in the gubernatorial runoff, Attorney General Bill Baxley, a fiery populist with strong black support, doesn't let voters forget James' Republican ties.
He delights in telling audiences about his "millionaire Republican apponent" who raised money for Richard M. Nixon in 1972 and the Republican candidate for Alabama lieutenant governor in 1974.
"His (James') advertising company has sold him to a lot of decent Alabamians as a fresh face who has never been in politics," Baxley said last week in a swing through Arab and a half dozen other northern Alabama cities. "But he's been in politics longer than Bill Baxley. He's been in politics up to his ears. It's been Republican politics.
"I'd venture to say he's never voted for a Democratic nominee for president," he continued, adding, "Bill Baxley has worked for every Democratic nominee for president since he was 11 years old."
TTS - Singleton
James' rise from obscurity has been one of the most remarkable occurrences in what is regarded as a watershed year in Alabama politics - one of the most remarkable occurrences in what is regarded as a watershed year in Alabama politics - one of the state's most important elections of the century.
The election signals the end of an ear. Gov. George C. Wallace, who has dominated state politics for 20 years, is stepping out of office when his term ends. Sen. John J. Sparkman, who has represented Alabama in Congress since 1937, is retiring.Sen. James B. Allen died earlier this year and was succeeded by his widow.
James has capitalized on the political vacuum, pouring tens of thousands of dollars of his own money into his campaign and hiring Deloss Walker, the respected Memphis media adviser. Walker packaged James as another spokesman for the New South, a 1a Jimmy Carter, and gave him the slogan "It's time for a new beginning in Alabama."
James' primary campaign was media-oriented, conducted through slick television commercials as he toured the state in a beat-up school bus. His chief opponents - former governor Albert Brewer, Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley, Baxley and state Sen. Sid McDonald - pretty much ignored him.
But he won with 29 percent of the vote; Baxley got 24 percent.
In the runoff, Baxley, a tough infighter with an impressive record at attorney general, has begun every appearance by saying, "The only thing I regret [in the primary] is I campaigned against the wrong folks."
But the primary left deep scars on Baxley's campaign. His biting attacks on Brewer and Beasley alienated many of their supporters, who now have flocked to James.
James refused to meet Baxley in debate. Instead, he has moved quietly about the state, talking to supporters, avoiding controversy.
He has the gee-shucks appeal of a college jock (James was an All-America running back at Auburn during the 1950s). On the stump, he sounds more like a coach before the big game than a politician on the attack. "I'd like you to join me in the politics of unselfishness," he declares. "I'd like you to join me in a renaissance of common sense."
He ignores most of Baxley's daily attacks on him. As for questions about his party loyalty, he says: "I was born a Democrat, I was raised a Democrat. During the early 1970s I strayed away from the Democratic Party. In recent years, I've seen the error of my ways. I've come home, and I've come home to stay."
James was one of many conservative businessmen attracted to the Republican Party by the Southern Strategy of the Nixon years.
Nixon carried the state in 1972. But then came the Watergate scandals.
By 1974, not one Republican was elected to the state legislature. "The Southern Strategy was working fine until Watergate," says former Republican congressman Jim Martin. "Nixon had the South in the palm of his hand. To me, that was one of the real tragedies of the whole thing."
This fall Martin, a candidate for Sparkman's seat, is the only Republican given even a remote chance of winning a statewide race. His likely opponent is former state Supreme Court justice Howell heflin, who is favored to defeat Democratic Rep. Walter Flowers tomorrow.
In the other Senate race, state Sen. Donald Stewart, unknown to most Alabamians a few months ago, is given a chance of upsetting Sen. Maryon Allen, appointed to her late husband's seat. Allen was the early favorite in the race, but was able to get only 43 percent of the vote in the Sept. 5 primary.