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The Democrats' Lost Opportunity in Birmingham

Wallace and Bentley adorn booth B-4 at Carlile's BBQ. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Walk into any barbecue place in the South and you're pretty certain to find walls of fame and photos of the area's local sports heroes. Dine at Carlile's BBQ here in Magic City and you'll see prominent politicians, mostly rock-ribbed Republicans, interspersed among the likes of Joe Namath, Bart Starr and Bear Bryant.  

Booth B-4 provides the most vivid illustration of Carlile's political tone. A contemporary photo of the current governor, Republican Robert Bentley, hangs just below a black and white photo of the late Democratic Gov. George Wallace, the long-time segregationist who recanted his views late in life but was for years a symbol, along with Police Chief Eugene "Bull" Connor, of white resistance to civil rights. (Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" immortalized Wallace's status for fraternity party singalongs with the lyrics, "In Birmingham they love the governor.")  

By the cashier counter, former GOP Rep. Spencer Bachus gets a place of honor, next to a photo of singer Lyle Lovett, a Texan.  

The city once dubbed "Bombingham" because of its Civil Rights Era violence was passed over last year in its bid to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Alas. And Carlile's isn't on the list of many Democrats here — "It's usually not in my repertoire of where I take my visitors," Rep. Terri A. Sewell, D-Ala., told CQ Roll Call recently, rattling off other 'cue joints such as Dreamland and Jim 'n Nick's and Lannie's in Selma. But imagine a gaggle of Democratic activists descending upon Carlile's to eat pork butt and lemon ice box pie among the mugs of Wallace, Bentley and Bachus. Bipartisan barbecue!  

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