Stewart’s opponent is incumbent David Faulkner, a one-term Republican member of Alabama’s House of Representatives. The legislative district, House District 46—which covers Mountain Brook, an affluent suburb just south of Birmingham—is the state’s wealthiest. So this race is a fundraising fight as much as a political one.
With a small army of mostly women volunteers who tirelessly solicit donations, canvass, write letters, mail postcards, and phonebank, the Democratic nominee campaigns with the cheeky slogan, “Hi, Felicia!”—riffing on the online meme #byefelicia. Supporters all over the district proudly display yard signs bearing the slogan.
In a deep-red district of a deep-red state, it’s highly unusual to see a Democrat running such a strong and visible grassroots campaign. According to NBC News, it’s been 16 years since a Democrat even ran for this particular seat. Liberals and progressives generally hide in a political closet because the area is so dominated by conservatives. In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump carried the district by a whopping 37 percentage points.
Being openly LGBTQ to boot, it’s safe to say that Stewart has shaken things up there. But timing is everything, and hers just might be right. Political analysts seem to think the tide is turning for Democrats in Alabama as moderates, independents, and liberals have started coming out of the closet, especially women voters. They see the shocking result of the December 2017 special election—in which Doug Jones edged past Roy Moore to win Jeff Session’s U.S. Senate seat—as a tipping point.
Stewart launched her campaign for the state legislature at around the same time.
“We knew that it would take more time to make necessary connections and to build a viable brand,” the savvy campaigner told NBC News. “Even if you’re a good candidate, in some of these tight-knit communities, if they don’t know you, regardless of your qualifications, you’re not an option.”
Although sexual orientation is not a major focus of her campaign, Stewart is running in the only state where the majority of people oppose same-sex marriage, according to a 2017 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) poll. (Only 41 percent of Alabama residents support same-sex marriage.) White evangelical Protestants comprise the state’s largest religious group. It’s the worst state in the country to be an out lesbian candidate for elected office. If she beats Faulkner on Election Day, she’ll be one of the very few openly LGBTQ legislators Alabama has ever had.
Randall Marshall, executive director of Alabama’s ACLU, spoke to AL.com about the tiny number of LGBTQ candidates in the state and the significance of Stewart’s campaign:
“It goes without saying but Alabama… is not the most opening and welcoming state at this point in terms of LGBTQ rights and concerns. But certainly, having members from that community run and win is certainly a good thing.”