Democrats Wishing Upon a Bright Star

Posted December 19, 2007 at 6:17pm

Politically speaking, Alabama’s 2nd Congressional district isn’t big on change.

Just two men have represented the southeast Alabama district on Capitol Hill since 1964, and even when change is forced upon the district — such as with the impending retirement of eight-term Rep. Terry Everett (R) — the local party rivalries that spring up are fairly predictable.

When Everett ran in the Republican primary in 1992 for the seat that was being vacated by 14-term Rep. Bill Dickinson (R), he won a regional battle that pitted his Dothan and rural southeastern “Wiregrass” base of support against a career politician who was based in the city and suburbs of Montgomery.

This time around, Republicans from the Wiregrass and Republicans in Montgomery appear to once again be on course for a primary showdown. But the possible candidacy of popular Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, who was elected in nonpartisan elections, could add a new twist to this traditional battle.

“I’m 99 percent sure I’m going to run but I still could be persuaded not to,” Bright said in an interview on Wednesday. “Right now all the information I’m seeing is that I’ve got a shot at it, and these positions don’t open very often. My decision will be made right after the first of the year.”

Bright has connections to both Montgomery, where he won a third term as mayor earlier this year, and the Wiregrass, where he was born and raised. But his candidacy is particularly intriguing because he still won’t say which party he would run in if he sought Everett’s seat.

Bright did say that more important than party affiliation is the fact that the 2nd is a conservative district. He also noted that the conservative Blue Dog Coalition is a “big and growing” part of the House Democratic majority.

Bright, whose wife is a lifelong Democrat, added that “military and agriculture are very hot issues in this district, and the Democratic Party has assured me that if I was running as a Democrat they would do everything they possibly could to make sure that I get assigned to those committees and that’s important to this district and important to me in making this decision.”

Rep. Artur Davis (Ala.), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s top recruiter, said the DCCC “does want Bobby Bright as a candidate.”

Davis said that a Republican primary “would be a very hard fit for Bobby Bright. He has taken public positions that I think Republicans in southeast Alabama would probably find not to their liking. … I think that Bobby Bright will run for Congress, I think he will run as a Democrat and I think Bobby Bright will demonstrate that there is ample room in the Democratic Party for a conservative candidate,” Davis said.

The other Democratic names that have been thrown out in Washington, D.C., and Alabama for the 2nd district seat are state Rep. Terry Spicer and state Agriculture & Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks, but he probably is more likely to run for another statewide office in 2010.

Meanwhile, Republican officials remain confident about holding down a district in which Everett never had any trouble winning re-election and where President Bush took 67 percent of the vote in the 2004 election.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R), who represents the adjoining 3rd district — and who said he believes that Bright will get into the race as a Democrat — said Republicans continue to benefit the longer Bright takes to begin his campaign.

“It takes an enormous amount of time not just to raise the money … but to get around and meet the key people in all the different counties,” Rogers said. “People that pop up early first quarter of the [election] year and say, ‘I’m going to run for Congress’ are naive about how easy it is to get around and get known. … Anybody who wanted to run for that seat should have announced the next day [after Everett’s retirement announcement] and already cleared their calender to devote full time to running for Congress.”

Of the Republican candidates, state Sen. Harri Anne Smith and state Rep. Jay Love appear to be the leading contenders — and both jumped into the race after Everett’s September retirement announcement.

Smith’s base is planted firmly in Dothan and the surrounding peanut farms of the rural Wiregrass. The three-term state Senator lives in Slocomb, where she previously served as mayor and works as executive vice president for the Slocomb National Bank.

Love was born and raised in Montgomery, where he became a successful restaurant owner and won election to the Alabama House in 2002.

But the race is not a two-way matchup. GOP state Reps. Greg Wren and David Grimes both hail from the Montgomery area and could challenge Love’s base of support. Meanwhile Smith isn’t the only declared candidate to spring up from the Wiregrass. Craig Schmidtke is a wealthy oral surgeon from Dothan who could tap into Smith’s base of support.

Rogers said he expects the Republican primary to be a very expensive battle that could cost the candidates upward of $1 million each.

“It’ll be a tough primary,” said John Ross, the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. “I think with the number of candidates we’ve got, you’ve got to anticipate a runoff. But I think it’s one of those things where it’s such a Republican district … that everyone is going to come back together once this is over, shake hands, unite and say ‘all right, we’re going to keep this district a Republican seat like it’s been for however many years Terry Everett served.’”