MONTGOMERY — They’ve lost a nearly 150-year-old majority in the Alabama Legislature and their last statewide office in 2012.
Meanwhile, in the last election, Republicans gained 45 county-level offices. Add in party defections that have been considered almost routine, and it’s hard to deny the political momentum controlled by Republicans in the state.
So, where do Alabama Democrats go from here and how do they become a viable party again?
There are plenty of suggestions.
“They have to prepare themselves,” said Glen Browder, a former Democratic U.S. congressman, Alabama secretary of state and state legislator. “It is not simply waiting for Republicans to mess up or changing their rhetoric. It’s not simply rebuilding the grassroots organization. … They have to sell a message to the people of Alabama that makes them attractive.
“(Democrats) can’t wait like the dinosaurs for the weather to get warm again. It’s not going to get warm again.”
His advice: Re-introduce themselves to the middle class and have some solid facts and figures, compiled by think tanks and policy experts, ready to share.
“You can’t just do it by saying, ‘the Republicans are horrible and our candidates have good ideas,’” Browder said. “When, in the future, the people are looking for something different, the Democrats have to give them a compelling reason for voting Democrat.”
William Stewart, political science emeritus at the University of Alabama, agreed.
“They need to point out mistakes Republicans make and point out any differences there are in their parties,” Stewart said. “They need to point out how things like Obamacare would help our state.”
D’Linell Finley, a political science professor in Montgomery, offered this suggestions for Democrats:
“Recruit good candidates in general and then give special effort to bringing back whites to the Democratic Party,” Finley said. Not necessarily the same ones that left the party, but “young educated whites to rebuild the majority coalition.”
Political science professor Shannon Bridgmon said Democrats need to start with young voters.
“If I was going to sit down with them, I’d tell them that all politics is local,” Bridgmon said. “I think in the state House races, holding on to what they have should be priority and focus on redeveloping the county parties. They’re going to have to start recruiting young voters.”
Longtime Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said the party needs to begin “building on a local level” and have a full slate of statewide candidates in 2014.
The Democratic Party recently announced that it will not have a candidate in a special election to fill an open Senate seat in Mobile.
“We have to pick candidates carefully and run smart,” Sanders said.
Bill Webb, the chair of the Morgan County Democratic Committee, said the group is making itself more visible in the community through volunteer efforts.
“We are actively recruiting highly qualified candidates to run for all county, state and federal offices that will be up for election in 2014,” Webb said in an email.
Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, is the new Senate minority leader. She said one of her roles is to spread the message that “we are a party of the people, for the people” that believes everyone has the right to a quality medical care and a quality education.
Outgoing minority leader Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, agreed.
“What we have to do is continue to focus on issues that are important to people, such as a good public education system, classroom safety and keeping jobs and expanding jobs,” Bedford said.
Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, said she’d like to see the party recruit solid candidates and developing a good message, “instead of attacking the other party.”
“To me, both parties should be trying to build consensus,” she said. “We’ve become so divided that it makes it difficult to achieve what we want for our state.”
Figures said when the 2014 election rolls around, Republicans who were elected in 2010 will have records to run on and defend, she said.
“(2014) is going to get back to issues,” she said.
Political experts say the state would be better off with two viable parties. It’s a notion that also was popular during the final years of the Democrats’ dominance in the state.
“Competition in the political marketplace operates like competition in the economic marketplace,” said Jess Brown, a political science professor at Athens State. “Are you inherently better off if you have choice or are you better off if someone says, ‘It’s either A or A?’
“If you have a truly healthy Republican and Democratic parties, they can be watchdogs for each other. That competition helps keep the candidates and office holders more accountable.”
Brown has ideas about how Democrats should proceed.
“Until Democrats say, ‘I’m conservative on social issues, but let me tell you about my economic issues and how Republicans aren’t looking out for you,’ they’re not going to get new voters,” Brown said.
Mary Sell covers state government for the TimesDaily. She can be reached at mary.sell@TimesDaily.com.