The Goldwater Landslide of 1964



You already know the results of yesterday’s general election but my column had to go to press prior to Tuesday’s vote. Therefore, we will discuss and analyze the outcome next week. More than likely there were no surprises. It would be a major upset if any Democrat won a statewide contest on Tuesday.

We are now one of the most Republican states in America. It all began 50 years ago this month. The 1964 Election was the bellwether year and Alabama and the Deep South dramatically changed to the Republican Party. On that November day, Alabamians voted for the GOP candidate, Barry Goldwater, and we have not looked back.

The South, which was known as the “Solid South” for more than six decades because we were solidly Democratic, is now known as the “Solid South” because we are solidly Republican. Presidential candidates ignore us during campaigns because it is a foregone conclusion that we will vote Republican. Presidential candidates also ignored us for the first 60 years of the 20th century because it was a foregone conclusion that we were going to vote Democrat.

From 1900 to 1964, Alabama voted democratically for president in every election except 1948. In that year, Alabama voted for the third-party candidate, Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond. Since the eventful 1964 Goldwater breakthrough, there have been 13 Republican wins and only one Democratic victory. To say that 1964 was a pivotal turning point would be an understatement.

In 1964, race was the issue in the South. George Wallace had ridden it into the Governor’s office in 1962. It reached fever pitch in 1964. Democratic President Lyndon Johnson passed sweeping Civil Rights legislation, which white southerners detested. The only non-southern senator to oppose the Civil Rights legislation was Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona.

Later that year, when the Republican Party met at the old Cow Palace in San Francisco, they nominated Goldwater as their presidential candidate. Johnson and the Democrats carried the nation overwhelmingly in a landslide that fall, with the exception of the South. Goldwater won what was referred to as the Southern Goldwater Landslide.

The South had been totally and automatically Democratic all the way down the ballot from president to coroner for more than six decades. There was no Republican Party in Alabama to speak of. There were no elected Republican officeholders. There was no Republican Primary. So, the Republicans chose their token candidates in a backroom convention. It was hard getting someone to even admit they were a Republican.

That all changed in 1964. Goldwater and the Republicans were known as the party of segregation and the white southern voter fled the Democratic Party en mass. As the 1964 general election approached, the talk in the old country stores around Alabama was that many good old boys were going to vote straight Republican even if their daddies and granddaddies turned over in their graves. Well, come Election Day, there were a good many old papas turning over in their graves all over the South.

The entire South changed parties on that day in November of 1964. Alabamians not only voted for Goldwater but also pulled the straight Republican lever out of anger toward Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Plan. Alabama had all Democratic congressmen, most had more than 20 years seniority and most were swept out of office by the straight ticket Republican voting. Alabama lost more than 100 years of congressional seniority on that day.

Thus, the most significant consequence of the Goldwater Landslide was the profound loss of congressional seniority and power. The GOP Goldwater straight ticket tidal wave swept an enormous amount of Alabama congressional influence into the Potomac. The contrast between our delegation at that time and our current delegation is vast to say the least. You could safely say that Alabama had one of the most power laden and senior delegations in Washington in November of 1964. It would have easily ranked in the top 10.

Whereas, today, our delegation is probably one of the least powerful in Washington. That is not because of our current delegation’s abilities, but due to their lack of seniority. Of our seven members, five have less than five years in Washington. Mo Brooks of Huntsville, Martha Roby of Montgomery, and Terri Sewell of Birmingham have four years each. We will have freshmen in the 1st and 6th Districts with no years of tenure.

The Goldwater landslide of 1964 was the watershed year that Alabama became a Republican state. It does not look like it will change any time soon.