By Greg Markley
For the Opelika Observer
Political signs were relatively prim and proper when I first noticed them in the mid 1960s. Wealthy candidates tended to use their full names, by tradition. Since the late 1960s, however, politicians realize that to be “folksy” is to be more electable. One person who seldom uses his full name is Jeff Sessions.
Sessions is trying to win back his old U.S. Senate seat. His first name honors Jefferson Davis, Confederate president, and his middle (Beauregard) is after a Confederate general. With his Confederate names, voters may think he agrees with the racism of old. I believe Sessions’ strong conservativism is based on ideology, not racism. After all, he did not choose his names from his crib!
On July 14, Republicans choose their nominee. It will be Sessions or political newcomer Tommy Tuberville. I like Tuberville’s signage. Instead of a U.S. flag decal, he opts for Alabama’s flag. He reveres America’s flag. But seeing Alabama’s flag on campaign literature is refreshing.
A former Auburn University football coach, Tuberville planned to run for Alabama governor in 2018. He decided against it when his friend and fellow Republican Kay Ivey became governor, and he was pleased with her stewardship of the state. He even had picked out a campaign slogan: “Tub for Guv.”
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones has held Sessions’ former seat in Washington, DC since December 2017. A democrat in a very republican state, he faces a stiff challenge from whoever wins the GOP primary. His slogan is “One Alabama for everyone.” This is a positive sentiment that promises Jones will continue to help the state get more diverse and welcoming should he get a full six-year term.
In the 2018 gubernatorial election, Kay Ivey won with the slogan “We steadied the ship.” She was the first female governor elected on the republican ticket. (As lt. governor, she moved up after Gov. Robert Bentley resigned due to a scandal in April 2017.) Her other slogan was “Alabama is working again.” Both of Ivey’s slogans were very good.
Her opponent in 2018 was Walter Maddox. He has been mayor of the state’s fifth largest city, Tuscaloosa, since 2005. At 47 years old and with a booming city, Maddox was expected to grab in excess of 43% in his contest against Ivey. He had been nationally recognized for his management of the city after an F-4 tornado.
Was his slogan “Walt” appealing enough? No, because he was not well-known outside Tuscaloosa, and a large “Walt” even with the smaller Maddox in the bottom didn’t help his statewide identification. He should have used something like “Education can work for Alabama” or “A new face for a new era.”
Those alternative slogans may have gained Maddox 3 or 4 percentage points. Ivey would still have won by a landslide (55% or more). But Maddox would have “cảrried the ball” better for his own future and that of the now insignificant democratic party in the state.
“If the facts are against you, argue the law,” said Pulitzer Prize winning poet and historian Carl Sandburg. “If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell!” This mantra is well-known among lawyers.
The Sandburg quote has relevance among political candidates as well as in courtrooms. Candidates who lack government experience use slogans with words like “change,” “transform” or “ignite.” It would not help their campaign to highlight the facts of their newness to the position they are running for.
If someone has a weak record in office (the law and competence aspect), they offer the “facts” that they are improving things, but gradually. Finally, and continuing with Sandburg’s theme, “Where the law and the facts are against you” being theatrical and “pounding and yelling” can help a lawyer win a case or a candidate win an election. A slogan here would be: “Throw the burns out!” which doesn’t need law or facts to succeed.
I recall two very effective slogans I saw in my birth state, Rhode Island. First was for a woman who was elected state representative as an Independent. Two years later, she ran as a Republican and had a challenger for the seat. Her slogan was “One good term deserves another.” That was a gentle way of indicating she was proud of her record and wanted more time to continue it. She won that election and many more afterward, too.
As Alabama’s U.S. Senate primary looms, Jeff Sessions is behind Tommy Tuberville in polls. Yet primary elections are tough to predict. Intriguing is the “football” vote, in which Crimson Tide fans might vote against Tuberville because he coached the Auburn Tigers. Or Auburn fans might vote for him just for that reason. President Trump is backing the outsider over his former Attorney General. All the reason for republicans to vote in 13 short days (July 14).
Greg Markley has lived in Lee County for 19 of the past 24 years. An award winning journalist, he has master’s degrees in education and history. He has taught as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama.