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GOP Bullish in Two Alabama Districts

Two recent developments in a pair of Alabama Congressional districts controlled by Democratic freshmen have state and national Republicans excited about the prospect of a double Republican pickup deep in the heart of Dixie.

With GOP candidates now in both races, the party’s efforts to capture those seats are officially under way.

The more heralded of the two recruits was Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby (R), who filed last week to challenge Rep. Bobby Bright (D) in the 2nd district.

Roby was heavily courted by National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) this cycle despite the fact that state Rep. Jay Love — the man the committee dropped nearly $600,000 in independent expenditures on last cycle — hasn’t ruled out running again.

More under the radar is the candidacy of Navy veteran Lester Phillip, who was the first GOP candidate to file in the northern Alabama 5th district of Rep. Parker Griffith (D).

Phillip, who is black and the son of immigrant parents, works as the minority outreach director for the state Republican Party. He was making the rounds on Capitol Hill last week and has also begun to make a name for himself at local Tea Party events and other conservative gatherings.

Despite the fact that the 2nd and 5th districts are areas where Republican candidates regularly dominate in presidential elections, Roby and Phillip have steep hills to climb in 2010.

Both Bright and Griffith have worked hard to establish their images as conservative Democrats who aren’t afraid to vote against their party’s leadership. Both are members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, and each has established voting records that are more conservative than many card-carrying Republicans.

But Republican operatives say Bright and Griffith have already failed their constituents when it comes to the the vote that will matter most on the campaign trail in 2010.

“Before this race even starts, there is one very clear distinction between these two very qualified Republican candidates and their respective Democrat opponents –—Martha Roby and Lester Phillip will never vote to anoint Nancy Pelosi the Speaker of the House as Bobby Bright and Parker Griffith did on their first day on the job,” NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said last week. “By doing so, they gave her a blank check to spend on trillions of dollars in wasteful spending and a platform to attack the CIA and undercut our military men and women fighting overseas.”

But Alabama-based Democratic consultant John Anzalone said that line of attack is a weak one.

“I’ve never seen any candidate, Democratic or Republican, lose based on their vote for Speaker,” Anzalone said. “It’s are you vulnerable on taxes, are you vulnerable on spending, are you vulnerable on social issues? That’s the big deal down here.”

From a strategic standpoint, Bright has the tougher district for a Democrat to hold.

Before Bright, Republican Rep. Terry Everett had easily held the 2nd district for eight terms, and GOP operatives continue to believe that the seat would still be in Republican hands if not for the combination of a debilitating GOP primary in 2008 and the fact that the candidacy of President Barack Obama helped boost Democratic turnout among the district’s 29 percent black population.

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