By PHILLIP RAWLS
After losing their last statewide elected office in the Nov. 6 election, Alabama Democrats still can console themselves with one statistic: At least they still hold a majority of the elected offices in county courthouses statewide.
But even at the local level, the Republican Party made gains.
Counting all county races, from probate judge to school board and county commission, state Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said the GOP had a net gain of 45 offices in the election.
Party switches leading up to the Nov. 6 election and victories in that election increased the number of Republican probate judges from 20 to 32 and the number of Republican circuit clerks from 17 to 29, he said.
State Democratic Party Chairman Mark Kennedy, meanwhile, asserts he is delighted his party still holds a majority of those offices in the 67 counties. And he says even with their gains, the Republicans fell short.
“Bill Armistead has been saying for months that Alabama Republicans were focused on a strategy ‘from the courthouse to the White House.’ They failed. Democrats came out on top in many of the local races that the Republicans targeted,” Kennedy said.
Maybe so, but Alabama has been trending Republican for a generation.
It took 26 years from the election of the first Republican in statewide office in 1986, Gov. Guy Hunt, until the last Democrat in statewide office, Public Service Commission President Lucy Baxley, was defeated on Nov. 6.
The GOP now holds every office elected statewide, including governor, both U.S. Senate seats, and all 19 appellate court seats.
At the district level, the Republican Party holds six of the seven U.S. House seats and six of the eight seats on the State Board of Education. The only congressional and school board seats now held by Democrats are in predominantly African-American districts. In the Legislature, Republicans hold more than three-fifths of the seats.
There were contested races for 213 county offices, with 149 having been held by Democrats and 64 by Republicans. Republicans won 67 of the seats that had been held by Democrats, and Democrats won 22 of the seats held by Republicans, according to the state Republican Party.
Democrats were successful in urban counties with significant African-American populations. In Montgomery County, the son of Joe Reed, the chairman of the Democratic Party’s black wing, defeated a longtime Republican probate judge. Democrats swept all county races in Jefferson County and re-elected a Democratic probate judge in Tuscaloosa County against tough GOP opposition.
The GOP made inroads into some rural counties as well as counties in northwest Alabama had always been Democratic strongholds.
“Republicans were elected for the first time in in modern time in Colbert, Franklin and Marengo counties and the first Republican countywide officials were elected in Jackson, Tallapoosa and Washington counties,” Armistead said.
William Stewart, retired chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama, said the strong Republican showing in the presidential and statewide races indicates the majority of Alabamians are conservative and don’t like the national Democratic Party. But he said many Alabama voters are willing to split their ballots to vote for Democrats in county races where they know the candidates.
Stewart said county courthouses will likely remain the base of the Democratic Party for the next few years.
“I don’t see how they can win statewide races any time real soon,” he said.
Armistead is already making plans for 2014, when county sheriffs will be a focus of the GOP.
Kennedy is plotting a comeback in a big election year when the governor, Legislature and other state offices will be on the ballot.
“We will study the Alabama electoral map, be strategic in what we do and invite all Alabamians to join us as we continue to rebuild the Alabama Democratic Party,” he said.