Candidates in Selma: What does it mean

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

Primary change draws candidates

The nation’s attention will once again be on Selma this Sunday as Democratic candidates Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., come to town to celebrate the anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

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The events on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 drew the eyes of the world and led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, changing the course of American politics.

The visit of the two candidates this weekend is “clearly due to the change in the primary calendar,” said David J. Lanoue, PhD, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama.

The state of Alabama moved its primary election from June to Feb. 5, 2008.

“It’s telling that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are coming,” Lanoue said.

Obama will speak at Brown Chapel at 11 a.m. Sunday; Clinton will speak at First Baptist Church at the same time.

Joe Turnham, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, agreed that the change to the Feb. 5 primary date is significant in bringing presidential candidates to Alabama.

“A lot of national eyes will be looking at Alabama on that date,” Turnham said. “I think moving the date up is going to have a significant impact. For people who live in Dallas County and other places around the state – it’s giving them a chance to see and hear people who have an excellent chance to be the next president.”

A key factor in this campaign will be “which of the two candidates can gain more of the African American vote,” Lanoue said.

“Bill Clinton was very popular with African American voters. Some of that carries over to Hillary Clinton, but now she’s facing an African American candidate,” Lanoue said. “She can’t take the African American vote for granted.”

How the African American voters in Alabama cast their ballots “will send a message to the rest of the country – it’s a good barometer of where the candidates stand,” Lanoue said.

Alabama will be one of the first states after South Carolina to provide that information, he said. South Carolina’s primary is tentatively set for Jan. 29, 2008.

Lanoue said that while Sunday’s event in Selma won’t necessary reveal which candidate has more African American support, it could show which has better African American organization.

“My guess is that Hillary Clinton is better organized,” he said. “Whether that translates with voters is another question altogether.”

He added that it’s not really unusual for two candidates to appear in the same city at the same time.

“Clearly, the candidates watch where each other go – they don’t want to leave any battle ground uncovered,” he said.

Turnham, on the other hand, said it is significant “to have members of the U.S. Senate who are major presidential hopefuls coming to the state,” especially for such a historic event as the Bloody Sunday re-enactment.

Turnham said he will be in town this weekend, but not in a partisan way or to politicize the “very sacred events” that will be celebrated during the Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

Like many other Alabama residents, he’ll be in Selma to see and hear the candidates.

History in the Making

By Cassandra Mickens

The Selma Times-Journal

It’s a rare occasion when two of the nation’s leading Democratic presidential contenders deliver simultaneous keynote speeches in Selma, Ala. Some

say such an event is history in the making.

“These are the most high ranking candidates we’ve ever had here,” said Selma historian Alston Fitts on the Sunday arrivals of Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. “We’ve had more than one (presidential candidate) here before, but we have not had leading candidates here at the same time.”

The national spotlight will shine on Selma once again when the political rivals speak at two area churches as part of the 42nd Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee – Clinton at First Baptist Church and Obama at Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, both located on Martin Luther King Street.

Both are slated to take the pulpit at 11 a.m.

Fitts said “there’s always a democratic hopeful” who has walked on Selma soil, including 1992 presidential candidate Dick Gephardt, who bowed out of the race early. Only two presidents – Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford – have visited the city since its founding.

Jamie Wallace, former editor of The Selma Times-Journal, said the high profile visits are the direct result of Selma’s critical role in American history and the events that unfolded on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

“The national Voting Rights Act was probably the most significant piece of social legislation during our lifetime and even though it was aimed at southern states it really had ramifications throughout the U.S.,” Wallace said.

“It enhanced voting rights not just for blacks, but Asians in San Francisco and Hispanics in other parts of the country. It was significant for all minorities.”

Wallace added the visits are also an opportunity for the candidates to “press the flesh” with southern voters.

“Sen. Obama has to get his name and face out among the minorities if he’s going to make a quest for that vote,” Wallace added. “The Clinton name is well known among minorities in this country and have basically supported (former) President Clinton.”

Fitts, whose daughter resides in Washington D.C., informed her father the nation’s capital is abuzz about Clinton’s and Obama’s Selma appearances.

Fitts said the senators’ visit “is probably the best we’re going to

do for a while.” But he wouldn’t be surprised if national notables participate in the 50th Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee in 2015.

“This is going to rank pretty high for some while to come,” Fitts said. “It’s neat our small town is being honored in this way.”