Everett Retirement Buoys Democrats

Posted September 26, 2007 at 6:33pm

In the wake of Rep. Terry Everett’s (R-Ala.) announcement Wednesday that he will not seek re-election in 2008, national Democratic leaders and state party officials were quick to say that Republicans are wrong to assume the race to replace him won’t be competitive.

Rep. Artur Davis (Ala.), who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s recruitment efforts, said Wednesday that Democrats can win the Montgomery and southeastern Alabama district “if we get the right candidate.”

And it appears that party leaders already are settling on Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright (D) as that candidate.

Just over a month ago, Bright, a conservative Democrat who has family ties to the southern part of the district, was elected to his third term as mayor of the state’s second-largest city, avoiding a runoff by garnering more than 58 percent of the vote. If he entered the race, he would likely clear the Democratic field.

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) called Bright “an A Team candidate” and said that if he decided to run it would be a major recruiting coup.

“We hope he will make the decision to run,” Van Hollen said, adding that the party had been looking at Everett’s district for a while, planning in the event of a retirement.

Bright couldn’t be reached for comment on Wednesday, but if he doesn’t run, other Democrats whose names are being floated for the race are state Sen. Jimmy Holley and state Rep. Terry Spicer.

But National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said Democrats are dreaming if they think they can move Everett’s district into their column next year.

“Alabama’s 2nd Congressional district is a Republican stronghold,” Spain said. “In a presidential election year a Democrat’s hopes of winning this seat are somewhere between slim and none.”

President Bush took 66 percent of the vote in the 2nd district in the 2004 election, and Everett has never had any trouble since winning his first race in 1992 with just 49 percent.

A slew of Republican state legislators have been mentioned as possible candidates to replace Everett, including state Reps. Greg Wren, Steve Clouse and Jay Love and state Sens. Harri Anne Smith and Larry Dixon. Dixon lost to Everett in a 1992 GOP primary race for the seat.

Another intriguing Republican name is that of George Wallace Jr., the son of the legendary former Democratic governor.

The younger Wallace, who is 55, was the Democratic nominee in the 1992 race against Everett, losing narrowly. He also ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1998 as a Democrat. He was elected to the public service commission as a Republican and then left that post last year to run again for lieutenant governor, losing the GOP primary.

Unlike the Democrats if Bright runs, the Republicans are almost certain to have a competitive primary, because so many ambitious GOP politicians have been waiting for a vacancy. The primary could lead to runoff with the two candidates split along geographical lines.

Although Alabama is staunchly Republican territory when it comes to national elections, locally Democrats remain very competitive. Democrats control both chambers of the state Legislature.

Before the last round of reapportionment and redistricting in the 2002 cycle, the 2nd district was considered much more competitive territory. But when lawmakers redrew district lines they removed the black neighborhoods of Montgomery and placed them in the adjacent 3rd district in an effort to help Democrats win the seat — an effort that fell on its face with the election of now-Rep. Mike Rogers (R) that year.

Still, Democrats say that the right candidate can still compete and win the conservative, largely rural district that encompasses much of the wiregrass region of southeastern Alabama.

“It’s not a marginal district, but this is a potential opportunity if you have a guy like Bobby Bright who is unconventional and isn’t considered a national Democrat,” said Montgomery-based Democratic pollster John Anzalone.

In a statement posted on Everett’s official Web site on Wednesday, the eight-term lawmaker said he reached the difficult decision not to run again over the weekend.

“It had been my intention until last week to seek re-election, including a run for the Chair or Ranking on the Committee on Agriculture,” Everett said in the statement. “However, there is a season for all things and it is time for me to enter the next phase of my life, and pass the mantle to the next generation.”

Everett, 70, also said he had battled some health problems in recent years, including two attacks of shingles that resulted in nerve damage to his right foot that has not been completely restored.

“I have recently determined that progress in that regard will be slower than I had hoped,” he said. “While my health is good, there are other areas that come with age that I should pay more attention.”

Aside from being a senior member of the Agriculture Committee, Everett also serves on the Armed Services and Intelligence panels. During his tenure in the House, Everett has been a strong advocate for the peanut farmers and military interests in his district, which is home to Fort Rucker and the U.S. Army’s Aviation Warfighting Center.

“In the Congress, Terry has been a clear voice for a strong national defense, an effective champion for our farmers and veterans, and a tireless leader on the issues that matter most to the people of Southeast Alabama,” Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) said in a statement.

NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) added: “He is a champion on agriculture issues, as well as military issues including missile defense, military space programs and the constantly changing technological needs of our nation’s military.”