Bellwether Counties: As goes Tallapoosa, As goes the state?
A statewide election is of course a different animal altogether. For while in the 2004 presidential race a voter in Ohio had much more impact than a voter in the Wiregrass, in statewide elections (decided solely on popular vote) all votes are equal. Yet that doesn't mean that Alabama doesn't have some "swing counties" of its own.
To try to decipher which Alabama counties might serve as bellwethers I simply looked at the 2002 election results. Only 6 counties voted for the winning candidate in each of the 7 constitutional offices (Gov, LG, AG, SoS, Aud, Treas, and Ag Comm) in the 2002 elections. That is no small feat when you take into account these offices were split between the two parties with the GOP winning 4 to the Democrats 3. And the narrow wins in the Governor's and Secretary of State's race also provide little room for error. Sufficed to say, a county had to have its collective finger on the pulse of the state to select the winner in each of the 7 races.
The 6 counties that proved themselves to be the "swing counties" during the 2002 elections are: (Here's an Alabama County map in case you need to brush up on your geography.)
Butler (pop. 21,400)
Covington (pop. 37631)
Crenshaw (pop. 13,665)
Henry (pop. 16,310)
Madison (pop. 276,700)
Tallapoosa (pop. 41,475)
One obvious observation is that 3 of the 6 (Butler, Covington, Crenshaw) are contiguous and a 4th (Henry) is just a couple counties east. Now I am not sure exactly what that indicates, but if any Alabamians can claim to represent "Alabama values" they should be from that neck of the woods.
Special attention should also be paid to Madison county and not just because of its size. Not only did Madison county select the winner in each race, but also its percentages nearly mirror the statewide margins. For example, Madison county voted for both Bob Riley and Nancy Worley by a margin of less than 1%. Across the board Madison county proved eerily representative of the statewide electorate.
Of course a "favorite son" candidacy can skew a county's vote and there is no guarantee that these 6 counties will be as prescient in 2006 as they were in 2002. But after election day next November don't be surprised if the candidates who won in these counties are sworn into office in January 2007.