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Sen. Howell Heflin sat through an hour and more offervent speechmaking by his colleagues yesterday with his chin in hishand, gazing glumly at the room's 12-foot-tall double doors like a man who longed to walk through them. For weeks, the Alabama Democrat had described himself as "completely neutral" and "unequivocably undecided" and "leaning straight up" when asked his views on whether Robert Bork should be confirmed as associate justice of the Supreme Court. By yesterday afternoon he was the only member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who hadn't declared his intentions.
Ronald Reagan received 61 percent of the vote in Alabama in 1984, a popularity rating the White House had banked on in calculating its strategy. But they hadn't counted on another voting statistic, from 1986: Democrat Richard Shelby had defeated the state's incumbent Republican senator through the heavy support of black voters. For Shelby and three other new Southern Democratic senators, a strong black turnout meant victory last year, and black leaders from Alabama and from national organizations opposing Bork had lobbied Heflin hard.