Alabama 3rd District
Forty years ago, Lineville, Alabama, in the red hills of Clay County, was Ku Klux Klan country, with whites determined to resist race-mixing and blacks under constant threat of violence. More recently in Lineville, integrated crowds regularly cheer mixed black and white high school teams, and people of all races work together, though they tend to pray separately on Sundays. Lineville’s progress perhaps echoes that of America’s most integrated institution, the military, for the small town produced more men and women per capita for Operation Desert Storm than any other community in the nation. When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, Alabama was the nation’s top contributor of National Guard personnel. Clay County has one of the highest concentrations of Guard enlistments and reservists in the state.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 3rd Congressional District of Alabama is centered geographically and philosophically in Lineville. The military presence is unmistakable: Calhoun County is home to the Anniston Army Depot and formerly home to Fort McClellan, which closed in 1999. Horseshoe Bend is where Andrew Jackson won a climactic battle against the Upper Creek Indians. Fort Mitchell, a 19th-century frontier military outpost, is the site of a national military cemetery sometimes referred to as the “Arlington of the South.” Phenix City, across the Chattahoochie River from Georgia’s Fort Benning, served as a “sin city” in the 1940s and 1950s, with virtually every imaginable vice for pleasure-seeking soldiers, a place so sleazy that Gen. George Patton threatened to level it with his tanks. Today, the huge military installation plays a more constructive role in the local economy. There are other places of distinction in the district: Tuskegee is the home of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, the training ground for the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black pilots trained to fly for the U.S. military. Auburn is the home of Auburn University and its renowned sports teams and veterinary school. Talladega is the site of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, which is perhaps America’s most user-friendly city for the disabled. NASCAR fans know it as the home of a famed speedway and for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame—the Cooperstown of auto racing. This looks and feels like rural country, though few people here make a living off their farms. Rather, they work at Tyson Foods or Wal-Mart or in dozens of small or medium-sized factories. An economy once dependent on cotton mills is more diverse, and interstates have brought in new businesses, including a huge Honda assembly plant in Talladega County, where good wages boosted local personal income by 22% in the three years after it opened. In Montgomery, state government is the largest employer.
Politically, this was long one of the heartlands of the Democratic Party, the home of conservative white Democrats who are patriotic supporters of the military and cautious supporters of some domestic programs. There is also a large population of African-American descendants of slaves from plantations. But the area has become Republican, except for Tuskegee’s Macon County and portions of Montgomery County added by the 2002 redistricting in an attempt by Democrats to make this district competitive. Democrats have remained competitive in some state elections. George Bush won 52% here in 2000, and 58% in 2004. Barack Obama increased the black turnout, but John McCain won 56% here in 2008.