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Alabama Races

House Outlook for 2008

Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?

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Alabama (02) (Open Seat)

Outlook: Toss-up


November 18, 2008 Update:

Democrat and Montgomery mayor Bobby Bright edged Republican state Rep. Jay Love to clinch the district’s House seat. Bright, who won by less than 1,800 votes, is the first Democrat since 1962 to occupy the seat. He will remain as mayor until January.

July 21, 2008 Update:

Republican state legislator Jay Love escaped from a narrower than expected primary runoff on July 15 to advance to the general election. In doing so, he racked up $650,000 in debt and begins with a fundraising disadvantage to Montgomery mayor Bobby Bright who will be his Democratic foe in November. Don’t expect that fundraising deficit to persist for long, as Love, who is personally wealthy, has committed to spending $1 million in the general election phase of the campaign.

As for Bright, he has already begun television advertising, giving voters and pundits a sneak peek at his message. Bright’s first ad does not contain the word Democrat, neither written nor spoken, an interesting strategy in a pro-Democratic year but a necessary one in a congressional district that went 2 to 1 for Bush in 2004. Instead, Bright’s ad has the words “conservative,” “pro-life,” and “pro-gun” splashed across the screen in quick succession. Bright’s hoping to become the latest in a series of conservative Southern Democrats elected to Congress, following in the footsteps of Travis Childers and Don Cazayoux. Bright has shown he is fully committed to their playbook, while Democrats hope it can carry them to victory once more.

June 4, 2008 Update:

While Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright cruised to victory in the Democratic primary, Alabama Republicans will have to go to polls again to choose their nominee. As a result of state representative Jay Love’s 35% finish, he will meet state senator Harri Anne Smith, who received 22% of the vote yesterday, in the primary runoff on July 15. Love is the frontrunner in that runoff, since he has been willing to commit much of his own money to the race and since he was the top vote-getter in the primary. The longer it takes the GOP to unify against Bright, the better for Democrats’ chances in this normally Red district.

May 19, 2008 Update:

The race for this seat, left open as a result of Republican Rep. Terry Everett’s retirement, is a jumbled mess. With the primary date set for June 3, a total of nine candidates, three Democrats and six Republicans, are vying for the position. The Democratic picture is pretty much settled, with Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright seemingly with a lock on the nomination.

The GOP side of things is where the real action lies. Three state legislators, representatives Jay Love and David Grimes and senator Harri Anne Smith, are in the race as are wealthy businessmen Craig Schmidtke and David Woods. Schimdtke and Woods have each contributed over $200,000 of their own money to the race, while Love and Smith have both accumulated donations roughly equaling that total. By virtue of a $350,000 personal loan to his campaign, Love has a wide fundraising lead, but the race is still wide open with just two weeks left until primary day


Background

In 2006, a vast Democratic wave crashed upon the nation, sweeping away Republican incumbents from California to New Hampshire. Perhaps the only region kept dry was the South, where outside of Florida, Missouri, and Virginia the GOP suffered no losses. This cycle, however, a rash of open seats across the South could reverse 2006 trends.

One such district is Alabama’s Second, where Representative Terry Everett announced his retirement at the end of his eighth term. On paper, this would seem to be an easy Republican hold. The district has a Cook Political Report Partisan Voting Index of R+13 and delivered a 34 point Bush win in 2004. However, Democratic hopes are placed entirely in Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright.

By law, Montgomery’s chief executive office is a non-partisan position, and both parties vigorously courted the popular pro-life, pro-gun mayor. As the Republican nominee, Bright could have waltzed to Capitol Hill, so his decision to don the Democratic moniker comes as a major surprise. Perhaps Bright wanted to avoid a potentially contentious GOP primary between state senator Harri Anne Smith, state representative Jay Love, and others where his urban record would do little to win over downstate conservative voters. Despite the mayor’s entrance, Democratic prospects remain far from, well, ”bright,” and Republicans should hold the seat in November, albeit with a fight.

Candidates

Bobby Bright – Democrat – mayor of Montgomery
Website

Jay Love – Republican – state representative
Website

Chris Gorman – Republican – trucking company executive
Website

John Fleming – Republican – physician
Website

Alabama (05) (Open Seat)

Outlook: Toss-up


November 18, 2008 Update:

State Senator Parker Griffith narrowly clinched the district’s seat by defeating Republican Wayne Parker by less than 10,000 votes (52% to 48%). This is the third time Parker has lost a bid for the seat.

July 21, 2008 Update:

As was widely expected, Republican businessman Wayne Parker took care of unfinished business and defeated his last GOP opponent in a runoff, earning 79% of the vote. Still, the few extra weeks of primary campaigning came with a cost, as he was forced to endure further attacks on his lobbying past and spend more money that could have been dedicated to his general election opponent, Democratic state senator Parker Griffith.

While Griffith now has a cash-on-hand advantage of $350,000 to Parker’s $73,000, the GOP is still very optimistic about their chances in a district that gave George W. Bush a 21% margin of victory in 2004. It will be up to Griffith to prove that he has the conservative credentials to follow the winning strategy of Democratic special election candidates Travis Childers in neighboring Mississippi and Don Cazayoux in Louisiana. Both were conservative Democrats who pulled off upsets in congressional districts that gave Bush roughly 60% of the vote in 2004. This race in Alabama’s 5th district certainly fits the profile, but will the result also match?

June 4, 2008 Update:

Republicans came within one percent of avoiding a primary runoff, but ultimately businessman Wayne Parker came up just short, earning 49% of the vote. Parker will face Cheryl Baswell Guthrie on July 15 in the GOP runoff to decide who will challenge Democratic nominee Parker Griffith, who easily avoided a runoff, winning with 90% of the vote. Parker is well-positioned to wi
n the runoff, with $130,000 on hand to Guthrie’s $12,000, and only needing to pick up a few more votes than he garnered in yesterday’s primary to clinch the nomination.

Unfortunately for Republicans, Parker’s inability to earn those votes before yesterday means the groundhog has seen his shadow and the GOP will have to endure six more weeks of primary season. In advance of yesterday’s election, Guthrie had been running negative ads focusing on Parker’s lobbyist history, and every dollar she spends to make that charge is one Griffith doesn’t have to.

May 19, 2008 Update:

The race in Alabama’s 5th district has taken on even more meaning in the past few weeks. With Democratic victories in a number of special election races in Southern districts where Republicans usually prevail, most notably MS-1 and LA-6, Democrats are suddenly feeling their oats in all kinds of Dixie districts. Democratic state senator Parker Griffith has yet to officially clinch the nomination, but a combination of political experience (limited, but useful nonetheless) and deep pockets practically assures him the nomination.

Republicans, on the other hand, have a six-person race that won’t be decided until June 3. The two leading candidates appear to be businessman Wayne Parker, who lost campaigns for the very same seat in 1994 (by one percent) and again in 1996, and attorney Cheryl Baswell Guthrie, who raised $200,000 in the first month after announcing her candidacy in April.


Background

After the Republican revolution of 1994, political observers professed it was only a matter of time before the GOP held a complete monopoly on white, conservative congressional districts in the South. The few yellow-dog Democrats that remained were assumed to be the last of their party to represent their district. Representative Bud Cramer was one such Democrat, and his retirement will test the whether the conventional wisdom holds, even in strongly Democratic year.

Although Cramer’s surprise announcement came weeks before Alabama’s filing deadline, both parties have settled upon their preferred, high-quality candidates. Running to succeed Cramer is Democratic state senator Parker Griffith who, with the help of Representatives Cramer and Arthur Davis has a clear path to the nomination. After state senator Tom Butler (D) declined to switch parties and make the race, Republicans offered up businessman Wayne Parker as their favored candidate above a field of longshots. Alabama voters may remember Parker—in 1994 he came within one percent of unseating Cramer and ran again with less success in 1996.

In the battle of Parker versus Parker, Parker (Griffith) (D) leads (Wayne) Parker (R) by a margin of 48-32 in an early poll. Such an impressive margin, however, is based on name recognition alone and should not be treated as credible at this point in the campaign. If anything, Parker, not Griffith begins the contest as an early frontrunner, given the district’s partisan demographics. Once the race engages, Democrats will have to fight for their lives to retain a district that gave President Bush sixty percent in 2004.

Candidates

Parker Griffith – Democrat – state senator
Website

Wayne Parker – Republican – businessman, House nominee in 1994 and 1996
Website