In a Small Alabama Town, Suddenly All Politics Is National

Twelve years ago, Ms. Jones, whose family had struggled during the housing crisis, wrote a bad check for groceries. In Mr. Nathews’s hand was a printout detailing just that. He would not say who had given it to him, but that they had done so with a message: “This is who you’re supporting.”

“Well, hell, who hasn’t bounced a check in Montevallo? We’re all poor around here,” Mr. Nathews had joked. But Ms. Jones was humiliated. A few days later, an anonymous Facebook account began sharing the document on the town’s community pages, and some citizens called for further “background checks” on Ms. Jones. (Mr. Brown said Mr. Nix’s campaign had nothing to do with the document or Facebook account.)

The political contours of the race grew sharper. On a community Facebook page, one voter shared an article on “cultural Marxism,” encouraging users to discuss how it might apply to Montevallo’s upcoming election. The Montevallo Progressive Alliance, a group of local activists, endorsed Ms. Jones, putting her on the hook for the group’s posts on things like “reproductive justice” and “microaggressions.” that she insisted bore no relevance to her vision as mayor.

It was a vision that in fact did not differ so much from Mr. Nix’s. Their answers in candidate forums on questions about infrastructure, safety and economic growth were largely the same. But by that point, their perceived differences on national issues overshadowed everything else.

When Patrick Mayton, whose wife, Tonia, was running for a spot on the City Council, saw the post warning of Montevallo’s future by pointing to the defund-the-police banner in Austin, he seemed exasperated.

“This is NOT Montevallo’s future!!!” he pleaded in response. “I appreciate you and others on here wanting to be vigilant against communism and police defunding, but I am confident that we do not need to fear these scenarios.”

What kept Greg Reece, Ms. Jones’s campaign manager, going was the promise of seeing Ms. Jones’s grandmother, who came of age in Jim Crow Alabama, walk into the polling station and cast a ballot for her granddaughter.