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Blog Home Page --> House -- Alabama -- 05

Primary Unkind To Two Alabama Congressmen

Two members of Congress in Alabama saw their 2010 campaigns cut short Tuesday: Parker Griffith, after switching parties in December, lost the 5th district Republican primary; and Artur Davis's gubernatorial bid ended in the Democratic primary, well before many expected.

The two members headlined a primary election day in three states -- Alabama, Mississippi and New Mexico -- and continued this year's run of intriguing political storylines.

HOUSE PRIMARIES: Griffith's shocking move to the GOP made his seat even more vulnerable than it was running as a Democrat in the South in a year Republicans feel the wind at their backs. On top of facing a competitive general election -- something he'd have no matter which party he was in -- Griffith's late entry to the Republican primary gave him yet another hurdle to overcome. Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks won 51 percent to Griffith's 33 percent.

The freshman also was running against history, as the 5th district has never elected a Republican to the House, despite voting solidly Republican at the presidential level. Former Senate aide Steve Raby will attempt to keep that streak alive when he faces Brooks in the general election.

Elsewhere, the National Republican Congressional Committee got its guy in Mississippi's 1st district, as state Sen. Alan Nunnelee squeaked out a primary victory with 52 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff against second-place finisher Henry Ross. Former FOX commentator, Angela McGlowan, who received an endorsement from Sarah Palin, finished third with 16 percent.

Republicans like their chances in this GOP-leaning district, which voted Democrat Travis Childers into office in a May 2008 special election to fill the remainder of Republican Roger Wicker's term. Six months later, Childers was elected to a full term with 54 percent.

The NRCC wasn't so lucky in Alabama's 2nd district, where the highly touted Martha Roby failed to avoid a runoff against tea party-backed Rick Barber, taking 49 percent to Barber's 29 percent. They'll face off again July 13 for the right to take on freshman Democrat Bobby Bright, who won in 2008 by less than 2,000 votes.

Also in play was Alabama's 7th district, which Davis gave up to run for governor. The solidly Democratic district won't know its Democratic nominee for another several weeks, as attorney Terri Sewell and Jefferson County Commissioner Shelia Smoot head for a runoff.

Continue reading "Primary Unkind To Two Alabama Congressmen" »

Four Things To Watch In Alabama's Primaries

With an open race for the governor's mansion and two seats Democrats picked up in 2008, Alabama is home this year to some of the most competitive and fascinating races in the country. Some of the intrigue will surface June 1 in primaries that will define the November races. So, here are four things to watch in Alabama on Tuesday:

The Reverse Specter?

Most political observers have had their eyes peeled on the 5th District GOP primary race since freshman Rep. Parker Griffith switched from the Democratic to Republican Party in December. The interest only increased since the defeat of Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary earlier this month, a year after switching parties. Griffith was elected to this 61%-McCain district by a 3-point margin.

Luckily for Griffith, there is no video (that we know of) of him stating that political survival was the sole reason for switching parties. But many Republican primary voters will likely believe that anyway, and they remember his attacks on Republican Wayne Parker from the recent past of 2008. While his GOP congressional colleagues support him, both vocally and financially, it's still unclear whether that has resonated on the ground.

Challenging Griffith are Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks and businessman Les Phillip, whose TV ad went viral for its kicker, "They're not going to call me a racist." Both have received endorsements from local tea party groups, and both trail Griffith -- who's dropped $250,000 of his own cash -- in the money race by significant margins.

Continue reading "Four Things To Watch In Alabama's Primaries" »

AL-5: Still Just One Parker

It appears Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith, the newest member of the Republican Party, will remain the sole Parker in the 5th District race after Public Service Commissioner Susan Parker (D) decided she will not challenge him in 2010. If nothing else, Parker's decision, announced yesterday, means there will likely be less confusion than in 2008, when Parker Griffith -- then a Democrat -- ran against Wayne Parker (R).

"During the past week, I have been honored and humbled by the encouragement I have received to run for the 5th congressional seat," Parker wrote in statement, according to the Huntsville Times. "However, I have decided to continue my campaign for reelection to the Public Service Commission."

The 5th District has never elected a Republican to Congress, and Griffith's party switch makes him vulnerable now to both a competitive GOP primary and general election. With Parker not running, the Times reports other potential Democrats include: Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison, political consultant Steve Raby, county License Director Mark Craig, state Rep. Randy Hinshaw and Anthony Daniels, a former state Senate candidate.

AL-05: Sparks Staying In Gubernatorial Race

After considering a bid for Congress in the wake of Parker Griffith's party-switch, Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks told the Associated Press this morning that he will remain a candidate for governor. A formal announcement was due shortly in Huntsville.

Sparks told the Associated Press that he was more committed to running for governor than ever and that he was in the governor's race to stay.

...

Some Democrats in Washington had urged Sparks to change races after 5th District Rep. Parker Griffith of Huntsville became a Republican last week. Sparks said he was honored by the interest, but feels he has made a commitment to the people of Alabama to run for governor.

Sparks would have given Democrats a strong candidate in that race now that Griffith is a Republican, though Sparks would have had to move to run there. He is not alone in running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, however, and the campaign of one of his rivals, Rep. Artur Davis (D), took aim at Sparks for flirting with the Congressional race:

"While Artur Davis is focused on a bold new agenda for our state, Ron Sparks has spent the last week trying to get permission from his political bosses in Montgomery to see if they would let him run for Congress in a district he does not even live in. This is the same Ron Sparks who said just a few weeks ago that he wishes he could run for Agricultural Commissioner again; the same Ron Sparks who was set to run for Lieutenant Governor until the special interests in Montgomery told him they had some other plans for him."

House Republican Leaders Welcome Rep. Griffith To The GOP

House Republican leaders welcomed Rep. Parker Griffith (R-Ala.) to the party yesterday, though their statements mostly focused more on criticizing the Democratic majority than on Griffith himself. Here are excerpts from some of the statements::

Minority Whip Eric Cantor: "When a Member of Congress decides to leave a 258 seat majority to join a deep minority, it is a sure sign that the majority party has become completely disconnected from seniors, young workers, and families in America. From the massive stimulus bill that wasted billions of dollars and failed to create jobs, to a job-killing cap and trade energy tax, to a government takeover of health care - the Democrat majority has pursued an agenda far outside the mainstream."

Minority Leader John Boehner: "Democratic leaders should seize this opportunity to reevaluate their entire job-killing agenda, starting with Senator Reid's 2,733-page government takeover of health care. House Republicans will continue to offer the American people better solutions to address their everyday challenges, an effort that will surely benefit from Congressman Griffith's leadership."

GOP Conference Chair Mike Pence: "Congressman Griffith's historic decision should send a deafening message that the Obama-Pelosi agenda of borrowing, spending, bailouts and takeovers is being rejected by the American people."

DCCC Chair Van Hollen Statement On Griffith

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen released the following statement today just as Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith was beginning his press conference in Huntsville to announce he is switching to the Republican Party:

"House Democratic Members and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took Parker Griffith at his word and, as a result, invested a great deal in working with Alabamans to bring Mr. Griffith to Congress. We were committed to helping Mr. Griffith deliver for his constituents and successfully helped Mr. Griffith fend off the personal attacks against him from the far right.

"Mr. Griffith, failing to honor our commitment to him, has a duty and responsibility to return to Democratic Members and the DCCC the financial resources that were invested in him. His constituents will hold him accountable for failing to keep his commitments."

UPDATE: National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions has also released a statement on today's news:

Continue reading "DCCC Chair Van Hollen Statement On Griffith" »

Alabama GOP Chairman Comments On Griffith's Switch

It's still unclear how Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith's switch to the Republican Party today will be received in the GOP, though conservatives -- per RedState.com and Club for Growth -- don't appear enamored with it.

As for the GOP establishment, here is a statement from Alabama GOP Chairman Mike Hubbard:

"It was a pleasant surprise when Congressman Griffith called me this morning to inform me that he is leaving the Democrats to become a Republican. However, it is not a surprise that Griffith realized the Democrat Party has now become more liberal than ever - making Obama, Reid and Nancy Pelosi the gifts that keep on giving for the Republican Party. The Alabama Republican Party has a strong strategy it is implementing for 2010. We are right on the issues and our candidates will reflect our platform of lower taxes and smaller government. It is obvious that the people of Alabama are embracing our plan as the Party picked up two former Democrat seats in summer Special Elections - one of those being Griffith's former state Senate seat. The winds of change are strong in Alabama as we have raised more money than ever for 2010 and we are coming with an aggressive plan that we believe will forever reshape the political landscape. I challenge Democrats running in 2010 to make a choice. Do you want to stand with us and fight the Obama/Pelosi/Reid Administration, or do you want to stand with them and defend them? It's a choice Parker Griffith made today."

Rep. Parker Griffith (D-Ala.) To Switch Parties

Rep. Parker Griffith (D-Ala.) is expected to become the second member of Congress this year to switch parties, according to a report by Politico. Griffith, a freshman in a historically-Democratic yet vulnerable district, will announce his decision this afternoon in Alabama and denounce the health care reform bill as a main reason for the move.

From Politico:

Griffith's party switch comes on the eve of a pivotal congressional health care vote and will send a jolt through a Democratic House Caucus that has already been unnerved by the recent retirements of a handful of members who, like Griffith, hail from districts that offer prime pickup opportunities for the GOP in 2010.

The switch represents a coup for House Republican leadership, which had been courting Griffith since he publicly criticized Democratic leadership in the wake of raucous town halls over the summer.

Although Alabama's 5th District has voted Republican in every presidential contest since 1980, it has never elected a Republican to Congress. It covers the entire northern border of the state and includes Huntsville. Griffith succeeded nine-term Rep. Bud Cramer (D) after just a 3-point victory last year, when John McCain won the district with 61% of the vote.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter switched from the Republican to Democratic Party earlier this year to avoid a tough GOP primary. However, Specter now faces an incredibly challenging Democratic primary, and -- should he win -- a difficult general election battle.

Griffith could face GOP primary opposition, as two Republicans had already announced they were running to challenge him -- Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks and businessman Les Phillip, a Navy veteran.

AL 05: Griffith (D_ +8

Republicans are unusually excited about the race to replace retiring Rep. Bud Cramer, and a new Democratic poll may show why.

The Anzalone Liszt Research poll conducted 10/12-14 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee surveyed 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. State Senator Parker Griffith, the Democrat, and ad executive Wayne Parker were tested.

General Election Matchup
Griffith......46
Parker.......38

A Democratic poll only showing Griffith up eight points and below the magic 50% mark suggests the senator, though better-funded and better-known, could have problems keeping the seat in Democratic hands.

AL: Rogers +21, Griffith +5

The Republican brand may be in tatters nationwide, but two public polls out of Alabama show GOP Congressional candidates running well against good Democratic opponents.

The polls, conducted by Capital Survey Research Center, tested both the Third and Fifth Districts. In the Third, 468 likely voters were polled for a margin of error of +/- 4.5%. Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican, and Democratic attorney Joshua Segall were tested. In the Fifth, 502 likely voters were surveyed between 8/19-21 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%, testing State Senator Parker Griffith, the Democratic candidate, and two-time Republican nominee and advertising executive Wayne Parker.

General Election Matchups
Rogers..........54
Segall..........33

Griffith........45
Parker..........40

Griffith, running to replace fellow Democrat Bud Cramer, was leading an early April poll by the same firm by a huge 48%-32% margin. Parker needed a runoff to secure the Republican nomination, while Griffith was virtually uncontested on the Democratic side. Still, after that runoff, Parker has closed the gap significantly.

Segall is rapidly becoming a favorite of Netroots denizens who pay attention to House contests, and he's raised a good amount of money. But in this heavily Republican district, Rogers looks like he doesn't have much of a challenge to worry about.

If Republicans brag about Rogers' lead and Parker's closing the gap, keep it in mind that next time Capital Survey Research Center polls anywhere in Alabama. With close ties to the Alabama Education Association, the polling firm is a lightening rod for GOP criticism any time they release a poll showing Democrats in good position.

Georgia Incumbents Win

Despite what looked like spirited challenges, two Georgia incumbents easily won their primaries last night, likely guaranteeing them a seat in the 111th Congress, while Republicans got the candidates they wanted in two runoffs in Alabama.

In the northern Tenth District, freshman Republican Paul Broun, who has been in Congress for just a year, took 71% of the vote to knock off State Rep. Barry Fleming. Broun will face Democratic nominee Bobby Saxton, an Iraq war veteran, in November, but in a district that gave President Bush a thirty-point win, he is expected to coast to victory.

South of Broun's district, in a seat that encompasses both Savannah and Augusta, two-term Rep. John Barrow survived a primary challenge with surprising ease, as many suspected State Senator Regina Thomas, who is African American, would have a good chance to knock off Barrow in a 45%-black district. But Barrow, who got help in the form of a radio ad featuring Barack Obama, won a wide 76%-24% victory. He will face former Congressional aide John Stone in November.

Democrats came a step closer to settling on a Senate candidate to take on Republican Saxby Chambliss, as well. DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones led the Democratic field, taking 40% of the vote, while former State Rep. Jim Martin finished second, with 34%. The two will head to a runoff on August 5, though polls have showed Chambliss easily leading both candidates.

Runoffs can be costly politically. In Alabama, two Republicans who came through runoffs last night start in a hole now, having to scramble to catch up to Democratic nominees who settled their races months ago.

With the retirement of Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer, Republicans have a shot to take back a seat that votes heavily for their candidates on a presidential level. President Bush won the northern Fifth District by twenty one points in 2004, but Cramer, who held the seat for eighteen years, never had a serious battle for re-election. This year, State Senator Parker Griffith won the Democratic nomination early, while advertising executive Wayne Parker had to wait until last night to secure the GOP nod. He beat attorney Cheryl Guthrie by a whopping 79%-21% margin.

Farther south, Democrats actually have a shot to pick up a Republican-held seat based in and around Montgomery and vacated by Republican Terry Everett. Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright cleared the Democratic field, while State Rep. Jay Love and State Senator Harri Anne Smith had to fight over the Republican nomination that was decided yesterday. Love, who spent heavily out of his own wallet, won a surprisingly close 53% to 47% margin. The two nominees will face off in what will be one of the most closely-watched races in the South.

GOP Involved In AL

Despite a pledge not to get involved in its own primaries, the National Republican Congressional Committee knows who it wants to see com out of two competitive runoffs in Alabama, and they're making their preference known. In both cases, the leading Republican failed to win enough votes in the June 3 primary to avoid a runoff, and the GOP has no interest in losing what will be two competitive southern seats.

In the southern Second District, where Republican Terry Everett is retiring after eight terms, State Rep. Jay Love and State Senator Harri Anne Smith will duke it out in the July 15 runoff. The initial front-runner, Smith finished with 22% of the vote, while Love took 35% in the six-candidate field. Last night, national Republicans held a fundraiser for Love, who has largely self-funded his campaign, attracting many top House GOP leaders.

Technically the event was not sponsored by the NRCC, and was held at the offices of an insurance industry group in Washington. But spokesman Ken Spain heaped praise on Love when the Associated Press asked about the race, making clear the committee's intent. The winner of the runoff will face Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, who won the Democratic primary outright.

Up north, Democrats hoping to keep retiring Rep. Bud Cramer's seat on their side will lean on State Senator Parker Griffith, who coasted to a Democratic primary win in early June. Republican insurance executive Wayne Parker barely missed his chance to win his nomination outright, winning 49% of the vote to attorney Cheryl Baswell Guthrie's 18%.

The Republican Parker has received checks in the mail from five of his GOP colleagues already in office, including fellow Alabaman Spencer Bachus. While the NRCC has not endorsed any candidate, it doesn't leave a lot to the imagination when chairman Tom Cole hands Parker a $5,000 check, as Roll Call's John McArdle writes today.

Both races will be tough for Republicans -- Griffith represents his district's population center and Bright is the popular mayor of a major city -- but it's doable. Cole has started to weed out the weaker candidates, something he'd been criticized for failing to do in special elections earlier this year. Better late than never, one would suppose.

Two AL GOP Races Headed For Runoff

The Republican nominees in two open Alabama congressional seats will not be known for six weeks after no candidate was able to win 50% of the vote in the primaries yesterday. The top two finishers in both districts will now face each other in a July 15 primary-runoff.

The Second District has been in Republican hands since 1964, and Rep. Terry Everett has held the seat since defeating the son of former Gov. George Wallace in 1992. State Rep. Jay Love and state Sen. Harri Anne Smith led a six-candidate field -- Love won 35% and Smith finished second with 22%. The runoff winner will take on Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, a highly-touted recruit by the DCCC, in the general election.

Love and Smith come from opposite ends of this heavily-Republican, G-shaped district, which covers most of the southeast corner of the state. Love is from the capital city of Montgomery and Smith comes from Slocomb, close to the Florida border. Most of Montgomery County, which cuts into the northern section of the district, falls inside the Third District, but the majority of Montgomery city resides in the Second District. Pres. Bush won 67% of the vote here in 2004, and Terry Everett never won re-election with less than 63%.

In the northern Fifth District, insurance executive Wayne Parker fell just short of securing the nomination outright, winning 49%-18% against attorney Cheryl Baswell Guthrie in a six-candidate field. The winner of the runoff between the two candidates will face Democratic State Sen. Parker Griffith, who hails from the district's population center in Huntsville. Griffith easily won the democratic primary, winning 90% of the vote against David Maker, an optical physicist.

This district has never sent a Republican to Congress, despite its recent trend of voting for Republican presidential candidates. Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer, a Blue Dog, has represented the district since 1990 and won his last five re-elections with at least 70% of the vote. He was unopposed in 2006.

--Kyle Trygstad

Primary Season Begins

Sure, South Dakota and Montana mark the end of the presidential primary season, but for down ballot races the fun is just starting. Eleven states will hold their local and federal primaries this month, kicking off a summer swing through primary electorates that will determine how well both parties will do in November.

The primary season started on Super Tuesday in February, when Illinois voters headed to the polls to pick Congressional nominees. The process ends September 20, when Hawaii voters choose their nominees. To kick off the big sprint tomorrow, voters in Alabama, California, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota will head to the polls. In four of those states, hot contests are emerging. Throughout the day we'll preview the contests to watch tomorrow, starting with Alabama.

The race to replace retiring Reps. Bud Cramer and Terry Everett take precedence in Alabama. While the Democratic nominee in Cramer's northern district is likely to be State Senator Parker Griffith, Republicans will choose between Cheryl Baswell Guthrie, an attorney who has run unsuccessfully before; former State Rep. Don Mancuso; advertising executive Wayne Parker and Ray McKee, who is literally a rocket scientist. Baswell Guthrie and Parker are seen as the two front-runners in a district likely to go for John McCain yet which Cramer, a Democrat, held easily.

In Everett's southern Second District, Democrats have largely coalesced around Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, who, courted by both parties, sent an early signal about Democratic chances in the ruby red Deep South. Several Republicans are vying for the seat, including State Reps. David Grimes and Jay Love, State Senator Harri Anne Smith, dentist Craig Schmidtke and television station executive David Woods.

Love, Smith, Schmidtke and Woods have all contributed huge amounts to their own campaign, with Schmidtke leading the way at more than $500,000 spent. Love and Smith are seen as the two front-runners to face Bright in November, when they should have an advantage in a seat that is likely to vote heavily for John McCain. Still, if Barack Obama inspires a heavy African American turnout, Democrats have a good shot, and as a special election last month in Mississippi proved, the GOP brand isn't in much better shape down south than it is anywhere else in the country.

State Democrats are also likely to pick State Senator Vivian Figures to take on Republican incumbent Senator Jeff Sessions in November. Sessions has $4 million in the bank, compared with just $14,000 on hand for Figures, and some polls have suggested that the contest will be a blowout.

AL Dem Retires

Nine-term Democrat Bud Cramer will not seek re-election this fall, the Birmingham News reports, giving Republicans a chance to pick up a seat in heavily-red territory. The founder of the National Children's Advocacy Center, Cramer was first elected to Congress in 1990 after ten years as a county district attorney.

Cramer's Fifth District, which runs along the state's northern border with Tennessee, is anchored in Huntsville and is home to many dams as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority as well as to an important NASA laboratory. Though it has never elected a Republican to Congress, the district gave President Bush a ten-point margin in 2000 and a whopping 21-point win in 2004.

Cramer ran unopposed in 2006 and hasn't had a difficult race since 1994, when he won by a single percentage point. A centrist, Cramer voted near the middle of the House in every category. If Democrats are to hold the seat, they will need a candidate who can fit that mold.

Potential candidates include State Senator Parker Griffith, Public Service Commissioner Susan Parker and State Rep. John Robinson, all Democrats. Attorney Ray McKee, a former rocket scientist, is the only Republican in the race at the moment, though rumors are swirling around State Senator Arthur Orr, real estate investor Stan McDonald, whose brother in law, Robert Aderholt, represents the neighboring Fourth District, and Wayne Parker, a Republican activist in the region.

Cramer's is the second retirement from Alabama this year, after Republican Rep. Terry Everett announced he would step down earlier. Cramer also becomes the sixth Democrat to say thanks, but no thanks, to another run, though only the third not seeking a higher office instead. His departure will leave a seat on the Appropriations Committee open, the first Democratic seat to open up this year after six Republican seats have already opened thanks to retirements.

Given the seat's overall tilt toward the GOP, Republicans will likely target the seat. "We clearly view this seat as a potential pickup opportunity. The recruitment process has already begun and we look forward to competing for the seat in the fall," NRCC press secretary Ken Spain said in a statement out this morning.

In 2006, as Democrats picked up thirty seats in the House, Republicans not only failed to knock off a single Democrat, they didn't pick up any of the other party's open seats, either. While several freshmen and longer-term incumbents are vulnerable again this year, Cramer's seat presents perhaps the GOP's best shot at a pickup.

Both parties will have to scramble: Cramer announced his retirement yesterday, just over three weeks to go before the April 4 filing deadline.