Obviously intended to help re-elect Jim Folsom, Hank Sanders' “mad as hell” robocall also obviously got much wider circulation than intended, not only in the Alabama press but this segment on Anderson Cooper 360 that aired Monday evening on CNN.
CNN reaches a lot of people, even in Alabama. Folsom only lost to Kay Ivey by about 45,000 votes. There's no way to know how many people came out to vote for Folsom because they got the call vs. how many were motivated to vote against him because they heard about it, but I'd love to see what kind of movement Folsom and/or Ivey's internal polls showed between October 15th, when the calls hit Alabama answering machines, and Election Day. I recall hearing of a similar robocall using highly charged language in the 2009 special election that sent Paul Sanford (R, SD7) to the Alabama State Senate. The call was on behalf of his opponent, Rep. Laura Hall, who is black, but it ended up on some of the wrong answering machines and fueled charges of reverse racism. GOP turnout was very high for a special and Hall lost badly.
CNN has posted a transcript of the entire AC 360 segment. Cooper asked Sanders what evidence he had that the Republican opponents would take Alabama back to Jim Crow days. Sanders said, “Well, there's a certain mean spiritness that's out there, not only in Alabama but it's in America. And that makes this election extremely important.” Which is true, but not at all what the robocall said. Following the interview with Sanders, Cooper continued to discuss “race in the race” with a panel of pundits. Video of that segment is below the fold.
There are certainly racial overtones to much of the political rhetoric and angst we're hearing right now, and I'm sure the fact that America elected a black president has exacerbated racial tensions in many cases, but when we focus only on the racial attitudes of those with whom we disagree, we're giving them a total pass on policy areas where they are just flat wrong. And pretty soon the debate turns into a “Yes you are!” “Oh, no I'm not!” kind of shouting match that accomplishes nothing. I tend to agree with some of the panelists that this kind of over the top rhetoric on race is in some measure generational and will eventually lose its political usefulness — if it hasn't already become more of a liability than an asset to candidates.