Races for U.S. Congress will be interesting
Published 1:00 pm Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Last week, we examined the probability of Republicans picking up seats in Congress in this year’s midterm elections. These seats were won because of the economy and they may be lost because of the economy. The economy was bad in 2008. It is still bad in 2010. If you live by the sword you die by the sword. If you win because of the economy you will lose because of the economy.
What about our seven member Alabama delegation? For two decades we had 5 Republicans and 2 Democrats. That changed in 2008 when Bobby Bright captured the 2nd District, which had been in Republican hands for 44 years. That made us 4 Republicans and 3 Democrats. However, that only lasted for one year as Freshman Democrat Parker Griffith turned coats and became a Republican after one year in Congress. This was somewhat of a surprise. The more likely switch would have been Bright, who was sitting in a proven Republican seat.
Bright’s ability to supersede party in this southeast Alabama district is a tribute to his unique development and political skills. He is an anomaly and a throwback to another era that makes him the perfect candidate for that district. Bright was Mayor of Montgomery but was born and raised in the Wiregrass. It does not hurt that he was the youngest of eight children born to a Dale County sharecropper. His humble roots resonate with rural voters. He has a down home demeanor that depicts him as a good old boy. He is a tireless campaigner. Bright has been to more towns and hamlets in his district in one year than his predecessor in 16 years. He will be tough to beat.
Bright is also wise and pragmatic enough to know that he can bring home a lot more bacon for his constituents as a Blue Dog Democrat than he ever could as a Republican. Pelosi and the Democrats will do anything to keep that seat. They will give him all the rope he needs on his voting.
That brings me to Parker Griffith. He would have had the same latitude as Bright as a conservative Blue Dog Democrat. He could have used his Democratic affiliation to protect Red Stone Arsenal and all of the Federal largesse heaped onto the Tennessee Valley. Those rich veins of federal money have flowed into North Alabama because of strong, powerful, loyal Democratic congressmen from the 5th District Tennessee Valley beginning with John Sparkman and continuing with Bob Jones, Ronnie Flippo and Bud Cramer.
Griffith’s predecessors were giants. He will never fill their shoes. First of all, he got to Congress too late. He is 68 years old. He would never have been a power but he is now relegated to being just another obscure right wing Republican from the South.
It remains to be seen whether Griffith can hold the seat as a Republican. The Huntsville right wingers are poised to ambush him in the GOP primary. If he survives that assault he will face a Democrat armed with the historic evidence that this still may very well be a Democratic district.
These North Alabama voters have been real Democrats over the years. They have been Democratic not only by tradition but also philosophically beginning with the New Deal. It has been a bastion for progressive, pro labor Democrats more so than the rest of Alabama. In fact, they have never had a Republican congressman. These folks are very independent. They are the epitome of Jacksonian Democrats. The most illustrative of this independence can be found in Jackson County, which is the home of Bob Jones one of the Tennessee Valley’s and Alabama’s greatest congressmen.
The other congressmen in the delegation should be safe. Spencer Bachus, Robert Aderholt and Mike Rogers have only nominal opposition. We will have a new congressperson in our 7th District minority seat. Whoever succeeds Artur Davis will be a Democrat. It will be interesting to see whether we remain 5 to 2 or go back to 4 to 3. The bellwether will be the 5th District Tennessee Valley seat.
It has gone under the radar screen but Richard Shelby is up for reelection this year. Shelby is a prohibitive favorite to capture his 5th six-year term.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 75 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.