Rep. Robert Aderholt (R)
Alabama 4th District
The Appalachian Mountains’ corduroy ridges, dividing the Atlantic coast from the interior, are America’s coal-and-steel industrial spine, from the black coal country of western Pennsylvania to the red hill country of northern Alabama. Here rose America’s two premier steel cities, Pittsburgh and Birmingham. Around both, and for many miles in between them, is countryside settled by feisty Scots-Irish farmers in the years between the Revolution and the Civil War. In valley land accessible to railroads, great steel factories were built in the 80 years after the Civil War, along with smaller factories that produced underwear and tires, glass and chemicals, socks and butchered chickens. Northern Alabama was solidly Democratic through the 1950s. It was populist on economics, conservative on cultural issues. Since then, the region has moved toward the Republicans, even though it has benefited from massive federal public works programs. The movement is most pronounced in counties close to Birmingham and along the interstates.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Alabama’s 4th Congressional District is a collection of small towns—Cullman, Jasper, Russellville, Fort Payne, and Albertville. The last is the home of a military helicopter plant and other aerospace facilities. Gritty Gadsden (pop. 37,000) is the biggest city, with a large Goodyear tire plant built in 1929. Sandwiched between Huntsville to the north and Birmingham to the south, the 4th District crosses the state and the Appalachian ridges, from the Georgia state line to the Mississippi state line. Decades of coal mining scarred 150 square miles of landscape, about one-fourth of which has been reclaimed. This is Alabama’s premier Scots-Irish district, with the lowest African-American percentage of the state’s seven congressional districts. Though family income is low and poverty above national averages, high marriage rates give some social stability. There are few vestiges of its Democratic heritage. George Bush won here with 71% in 2004. John McCain won many of these counties with over 70% of the vote in 2008.
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: July 22, 1965, Haleyville .
Education: Birmingham-Southern Col., B.A. 1987, Samford U., J.D. 1990.
Family: Married (Caroline); 2 children.
Professional Career: Haleyville Municipal Judge, 1992–96; Asst. legal advisor, Gov. Fob James, 1995–96.
The congressman from the 4th District is Robert Aderholt, a Republican first elected in 1996 to replace 30-year Democratic Rep. Tom Bevill, a longtime senior appropriator and federal benefactor for the region. Aderholt is from Winston County, the one ancestrally Republican county in north Alabama, which opposed secession in the Civil War and declared itself the Free State of Winston. His father was a circuit judge for more than 30 years; his wife’s father was a state senator and state commissioner of Agriculture and Industry. In 1992, Aderholt was appointed Haleyville municipal judge. Three years later, he became a top aide to Republican Gov. Fob James. With that pedigree, he decided to run for Congress when Bevill retired. As the Republican nominee, he faced state Sen. Bob Wilson Jr., who called himself a Democrat “in the Tom Bevill tradition.” In this culturally conservative district, Aderholt didn’t hedge on cultural issues, opposing abortion rights, gun control, and same-sex marriage, and supporting school prayer. “We want to go to Washington to deliver a message, and that is, don’t mess with our traditional family values,” he said. He also attacked Wilson for his support from labor unions and trial lawyers. This was a nationally targeted race, seriously contested, and Aderholt won 50%-48%.
|Robert Aderholt (R)||196,741||(75%)||($688,864)|
|Nicholas Sparks (D)||66,077||(25%)||($22,701)|
|Robert Aderholt (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (70%), 2004 (75%), 2002 (87%), 2000 (61%), 1998 (56%), 1996 (50%)
Aderholt’s voting record is generally conservative. But he supported quotas on steel imports and sponsored a bill assessing additional antidumping duties on foreign steel. He also reached out to industrial unions with his vote against normalizing trade relations with China. After George W. Bush was elected—and after Aderholt got protection for the local sock industry—he voted to give the president more authority to negotiate trade deals. But his votes on trade tend to still be tied to regional imperatives. He opposed free-trade agreements with Chile, Morocco, and Singapore, but in 2005 he was a crucial vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement after he got a last-minute letter from President Bush delaying the phaseout of tariffs on socks. Still, the agreement ultimately proved devastating for Fort Payne, which once had 150 plants and proclaimed itself the Sock Capital of the World. By 2007, sock imports from Central America and China closed more than 100 of those mills. Aderholt said that he was “disappointed” that the administration failed to give the mills more time to adjust. He opposed temporary extension of the Andean Trade Promotion Act because he feared more job losses.
Recognizing Aderholt’s electoral vulnerability, Republican leaders put him on the Appropriations Committee, where he has been able to secure more highway and sewer money than most of his GOP colleagues. In 2009, Aderholt became ranking Republican on the Legislative Branch Subcommittee at Appropriations.
And he hasn’t forgotten the social issues. When Alabama’s chief justice Judge Roy Moore called for a new law to prevent federal judges from interfering with public displays of the Ten Commandments, Aderholt sponsored legislation toward that goal. “The acknowledgment of God is not a legitimate subject of review by the federal courts,” Aderholt said. He was the only House member from Alabama in 2008 to vote against the $700 billion bailout of the financial markets. He cited public “discontent” with the bailout plan, and the need for a more market-based approach.
Aderholt faced serious challenges in his first two re-elections, but has won easily since. In 2006, former Millport Mayor Barbara Bobo, his Democratic challenger, said “We need checks and balances, not this bobblehead Congress.” But Aderholt won 70%-30%. Benefiting from shifts in national politics, he appears to have established a grip on what used to be a swing seat.