Looking back at past election predictions
Bob Ingram, Capitol Scene
MONTGOMERY — I am sure some of you remember a hit television show of a few decades ago called “Mission Impossible.” That title perfectly describes my mission as I sit down at my word processor to write this column.
You see, I am writing this piece several days before the election, many of you will be reading it after the election. I don't know who won, and you do. That being so, this column will not be about one of the most interesting elections I have covered in years.
Instead, I must offer to you what the editor of your paper might call a “filler” — that is a not-very-complimentary description of something written just to fill up some space.
What I think I will do is reminisce, which is one of the few things a man of my age can still do. Specifically, I plan to reminisce about the previous 14 gubernatorial elections I covered.
1950: Gordon Persons campaigning the state in a new-fangled device called a helicopter. Few Alabamians had ever seen such a contraption, and his chopper created dust storms in more shopping strip parking lots than you can imagine.
1954: The Strawberry Pickers sang “Y'all Come” countless times as Big Jim Folsom won a second term without a run-off.
1958: Minnie Pearl, Wally Fowler, the Statesman Quartet and the Blackwood Brothers did their best for their candidates but the winner was John Patterson, accompanied by Rebe Gosdin on the ukulele.
1962: George Wallace vowed after losing in '58 he would “never be out-segged again”. At least he said something like that. In '62 he wasn't, and the Wallace Era began. A sidebar: Those who were around at the time will never forget an election eve TV show by former Gov. Folsom where he was so high on something — he claimed he was drugged — that he couldn't remember the names of his own kids.
(One of them ran for lieutenant governor this year.)
1966: The headline over my byline in the Montgomery Advertiser said it all: “LURLEEN LANDSLIDE.” Indeed it was. The voters wanted four more years of George and since they couldn't have him they opted for his wife.
1970: The ugliest of them all. The only issue was race and Wallace owned that issue. He beat Albert Brewer by the thinnest of margins and the Era of Wallace continued.
1974: A non-race. Crippled by an attempt on his life, Wallace was unbeatable and became the first governor in Alabama history to be elected to back-to-back four year terms. If you remember who he beat you are a card carrying political junkie (it was Sen. Gene McClain of Huntsville).
1978: He might have been dubbed “Fumbling Fob” James as a running back at Auburn but he committed no turnovers in his successful run for governor.
1982: Wallace ran and won one more time, but in a remarkable turn of events, he was saved in the run-off by a substantial number of black votes. Who would have thunk it?
1986: The Baxley-Graddick fiasco and the election of the most unlikely of candidates, Republican/Free Will Baptist preacher Guy Hunt. History was made here in more ways than one.
1990: Comfortable with his low-key administration, the voters re-elected Hunt and in the process defeated the man some call the “real governor of Alabama,” Dr. Paul Hubbert of the AEA.
1994: Here came Fob James again, this time as a “born again” Republican and he defeated Jim Folsom, Jr., who had assumed the office after the felony conviction of Guy Hunt.
1998: Don Siegelman, using as his sole issue the legalization of a state lottery, whipped James. He swiftly found out that the voters didn't elect him because of the lottery — it was later overwhelmingly rejected — but because they had enjoyed all of Fob they could stand.
2002: In a stunning upset, little-known Congressman Bob Riley defeated Siegelman in the closest gubernatorial race in history. A bonehead error by election officials in Baldwin County made this election all the more contentious.
2006: You tell me! If the polls were accurate, Gov. Riley won easily; if they were wrong we had the biggest upset in memory.
And which of those campaigns were the most fun to cover? All of them leading up to the time when television took over.
In the pre-TV says the candidates had to stump the state, making eight to 10 appearances a day. The people got to eyeball the candidates, to press the flesh, to size them up one-on-one.
Now all they see are slick commercials, mostly mud-slinging commercials. And sadly, far too often, the winner is not necessarily the best qualified but the one with the best advertising agency.