This is what you call kicking a -- and taking names," said Mickey Griffin, George C. Wallace's veteran campaign director. "It's devastation."
"This is still Wallace country," supporters yelled as the numbers were called out from the stage at the smoky, noisy headquarters.
Wallace stormed back to political power tonight, gliding a statewide blitz to a remarkably easy victory in his bid for a fourth, non-consecutive, term as governor. His Republican opponent, Emory Folmar, the pistol-packing mayor of Montgomery who waged an energetic campaign but failed to break Democratic control of the state's entrenched political machinery, never had a chance.
Wallace seemed subdued rather than jubilant in a conciliatory victory speech. He said he would be "the governor of all citizens of Alabama, whether they voted for me or not." Clearly tired after five months of nonstop campaigning, and suffering from laryngitis, he skipped his usual post-election news conference and went home to rest.
Folmar conceded defeat shortly after Wallace claimed the victory that had been obvious soon after the polls closed. "The people of Alabama have spoken," he said. "Wallace ran a wonderful race, a clean race. No regrets."
Folmar's polls had given him at least an outside chance, but the Wallace tide swept him away early. "Roll Tide," Wallace fans yelled, borrowing the cheer from the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide.
Wallace's victory was all the more impressive because he had to overcome handicaps that would have dissuaded many other politicians from running. At 63, he is crippled and nearly deaf.
His name recognition is based as much on his past as a die-hard segregationist as on his record as governor. But he appealed to black voters to forget the past and accept him as a "compassionate, caring man," who would represent all the people and bring in new jobs to save the state from the effects of Reagan economics.
It worked better than Wallace's supporters dared hope. He scored heavily in the mostly black rural counties, and many blacks were at his headquarters tonight to cheer him on.
"He has done a lot for the state of Alabama and particularly the blacks," said Wilby Wallace, a black former Talladega policeman and a Wallace supporter since 1968. "He built a lot of trade schools and junior colleges, and he brought in a lot of jobs, for all the people. And he stood for law and order for everybody. He wasn't against the black man." That was the message Wallace sought to convey in his campaign.
Folmar, 52, known as the "mayoratollah" for his gang-busting performance as mayor of Montgomery, gave the Republicans their first serious run at the governorship since Reconstruction.
The GOP was dormant here for generations, and in the past Wallace's victory in the Democratic primary would have been tantamount to election. But the party has found new strength among the state's conservative voters, who sent Republican Jeremiah Denton to the Senate in 1980. Former governor John Patterson, a Wallace backer, said today that Folmar had made "a very good run at it" but could not overcome institutionalized Democratic control of local political machinery.
In a state with a rapidly changing economy and one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, the gubernatorial campaign revolved less around the issues than around the personalities of two tough talking, rough edged battlers.
Wallace tried to dismiss the conspicuous gap in physical condition between him and the vigorous Folmar by pledging not to get "paralyzed in the head" or turn a deaf ear to the voters.
Because of Folmar's Wyatt Earp style and Wallace's questionable health and segregationist past, the campaign inspired strong feelings and harsh words among prominent citizens of the state.
Wallace's former wife, Cornelia, endorsed Folmar and attacked Wallace in newspaper interviews.
Mary Weidler, state director of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the campaign a race between "a vegetable and a Nazi."
Alvin Holmes, a prominent black state legislator, likened it to a contest between Hitler and Mussolini. Blacks, he said, would choose "Hitler" -- Wallace -- because he was running as a Democrat.
Wallace campaigned heavily in the rural black districts where he was once the arch-villain of the civil rights movement, disclaiming his record as a segregationist and asking forgiveness.
Wallace, in effect, ran as the liberal candidate, a tactic that was either cynical opportunism or a genuine reflection of change both in him and in the electorate, depending on which analyst was describing it.
He portrayed Folmar, a wealthy shopping center developer, as a candidate who would turn the state over to fat cats profiting from Reagan economic policies.