On August 21, real-estate tycoon and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump drew, by some estimates, as many as 30,000 people to his Mobile rally, according to a recent CNN article.

This exceeds–or at least rivals–Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders Portland rally of roughly 28,000 attendees for the most attended event of the 2016 campaign thus far.

Most commentary regarding the rally will likely focus on what this high attendance means for the Republican primary in general, or on the potentially poor optics of the state showing such high support for the controversial candidate.

However, let us examine a lighter aspect of the rally: how it harkens back to a more dynamic time in Alabama politics.

Alabama is of course no stranger to embracing controversial outsider candidates.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Alabama voters rallied around the heavy drinking and womanizing redneck liberal Big Jim Folsom in his campaigns for governor.

From the 1960s through 1980s, attorney George Wallace, who was a former boxer, was able to dominate Alabama politics through his mixing of economic populism and–until his later years–a fiery support of segregation.

Save for former Governor Don Siegalmen’s lengthy legal battles following his hotly contested corruption charges, Alabama politics have become considerably less colorful in recent decades.

The virtual collapse of the state’s Democratic Party has, among other things, made Alabama politics a considerably less appealing spectator sport.

For example, the 2014 gubernatorial race proved perhaps one of the least engaging in the state’s modern history. Democratic nominee and former Congressman Parker Griffith lacked even the clout to force Governor Bentley into a proper debate.

Alabama’s role in presidential politics has also become considerably less dynamic in recent cycles. From 1964 to 1976, Governor Wallace frustrated the Democratic National Committee with one independent run for the presidency and three ill-fated attempts at securing the Democratic nomination.

Following Wallace’s final presidential run, the state has emerged as a reliable Republican stronghold–which has resulted in minimal campaigning on the part of presidential candidates.

During the Republican and Democratic primaries, the state has tended to place very low on candidates’ schedules as well.

Democrats have tended to skip the state with the exception of stops at Civil Rights landmarks such as Selma–where the Clinton and Obama campaigns famously crossed paths in 2007.

Meanwhile, republican candidates have tended to invest only moderate attention in the state.

The competitiveness of the 2012 Republican Primary lead to some changes in this trend; however, Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum–who carried the state–are investing some notable time in Alabama and neighboring Mississippi.

However, If recent events are any indication, Alabama may play a more vibrant role in the 2016 Republican primary. The same week as Trump’s massive rally, Governor Bentley invited another Republican hopeful — Governor of Ohio John Kasich — to Birmingham in order to offer his endorsement.

Alabama seems to be on the minds of both frontrunner Donald Trump and underdog John Kasich. With Alabama’s March 1 primary still far in the future, it seems possible that the state will be a more frequent stop for the candidates than in past cycles.

Kevin Spann
Political Columnist

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