BOSTON – As high profile celebrities dazzled Democratic National Convention delegations from swing states such as Florida,the Alabama delegation was instead courted by a true blue Southerner – retired general Wesley Clark of Arkansas.
Clark's message at the Monday morning meeting of the Alabama delegation was clear –even with its strong Republican record,Alabama can elect a Democrat to the White House.
Sen. John Kerry,who will accept the party's nomination Thursday,has the Southern values it takes to win,despite the perception that he is a “Massachusetts liberal,” Clark said. The former presidential hopeful who endorsed Kerry after he dropped out of the race himself said,“He can't help it that he grew up in Massachusetts” to an immediate eruption of laughs from the delegation.
Southerners value patriotism,sacrifice and service,said John Saxon,the former Alabama Democratic Party treasurer who ran Clark's campaign in the state. “The only man who was a war hero in this election,the only man who served in active duty,that man is John Kerry. And Southerners will recognize that.”
Republicans are counting on Kerry being a tough sell in Alabama,where Democrats are sometimes conservative on issues such as gun control,the death penalty and abortion,said Ted Hosp,chairman of the Kerry campaign in Alabama.
Kerry's campaign will not create ads for the state,Hosp said. “Of course,neither will the Republicans,” he said,alluding to the Republican perception that Alabama is a sure bet.
Doug Jones,a 50-year-old Birmingham attorney and delegate,said Alabama has a “very strong” base of Democrats but acknowledged getting Kerry elected there will be “an uphill battle.”
But it looks promising,he said. That Alabama elected officials even showed up at the delegation's meeting is “very significant,” Saxon said. Elected officials in some states are staying away from the convention because they don't want to be too closely tied to Kerry. And as Saxon said,“We do not always have Alabama Democrats speaking for national Democrats.”
Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Lowell Baron,Alabama Speaker of the House Seth Hammett,Alabama Secretary of State Nancy Worley and Alabama members of the U.S. House,Reps. Bud Cramer and Artur Davis,spoke at the meeting.
They had one message,and Clark said it best – “Don't give up on Alabama.”
It's something Clark said he told the Kerry campaign,but Alabama Democrats need to hear it themselves,he said.
“This election is going to be full of surprises,” said Cramer,who serves on the House Intelligence Committee. “There is a sense among my colleagues that the air is changing.”
Electing a Democrat will be a challenge,Hammett said,but it's possible.
And even if Alabama doesn't end up as a blue state,the votes it casts for Kerry and his running mate,John Edwards,still are important,said Redding Pitt,delegation chairman.
That's because Alabama voters can add to a large popular vote,giving the next president the popular mandate he will need,one Pitt said President Bush hasn't had.
“Every vote counts here,” he said.
Some Birmingham delegates and their guests said electing a Democratic ticket is an easier task with Edwards on it.
“Edwards looks and sounds Southern,” Saxon said.
He has even made fund-raising in Alabama much easier,Pitt said.
The energy of Alabama's meeting was high,with frequent shouts and cheers from the delegation.
“I feel empowered by the whole thing,” said delegate Sheila Smoot,Jefferson County commissioner. “Last year I would have said we didn't have a chance,but now I think we just might.”