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DCCC Prospects ‘Bright’-en in Alabama

Putting an end to months of speculation about whether he would run and what party label he would run under, Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright is set to announce this week that he will seek the Alabama House seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Terry Everett (R) — and do so as a Democrat.

Word of Bright’s decision began to leak out late last week, and on Friday the popular three-term mayor — who was elected in nonpartisan elections — said “I am a strong, independent-minded person, and I was looking for a party … that would allow me to continue to be a strong independent. And that’s what I’ve found with the Democratic label.”

The development in Alabama was one of several in potentially competitive House races late last week. In Arizona, Rep. John Shadegg (R) reversed course and said he would run for re-election after all, and in the race to replace retiring Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.), the Republican nominee, New Lenox Mayor Tim Baldermann, abruptly dropped out of the race, leaving the GOP scrambling to find a replacement.

Bright, who has connections to both Montgomery and the rural southeast “Wiregrass” portion of the district, said his official announcement would come at noon on Tuesday near his childhood home outside Dothan.

Bright acknowledged that he faces a tough battle running as a Democrat in a district where Everett never had any trouble winning re-election and where President Bush took 67 percent of the vote in 2004.

“Even though [running as a Democrat] immediately puts me in the underdog category, I think I can overcome that,” he said.

Rep. Artur Davis (Ala.), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s top recruiter, described Bright as “the only Democrat that can win that district.”

Davis said the party was excited about Bright’s candidacy because “has the kind of conservative profile that is necessary to compete in southeast Alabama and he has a record of results. … Bobby Bright is not going to be a traditional national Democrat. He is going to be his own man. He is going to be a candidate who very much speaks to conservative values in southeast Alabama.”

But on Friday the National Republican Congressional Committee already was taking shots at Bright, who just months ago was considered a possible GOP candidate. Along with pointing out the strong Republican bent of the district and attacking Bright’s record on crime and taxes during his tenure as mayor, NRCC spokesman Ken Spain added that Bright’s background as a trial lawyer wouldn’t play well in the district.

“Bobby’s future as a candidate doesn’t look very bright,” Spain said.

Of the announced 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 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 Rep. David Grimes also hails from the Montgomery portion of the district, and Craig Schmidtke is a wealthy oral surgeon from Dothan and the Wiregrass.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, Shadegg’s decision to run — 10 days after he announced his retirement plans — scrambled the state’s politics yet again.

Shadegg said the reaction of his constituents and Capitol Hill colleagues following his retirement announcement “stunned and deeply humbled me,” prompting the reversal.

Shadegg’s decision to run for re-election after all has to buoy the NRCC, which is still faced with 28 open seats even with Arizona’s 3rd district back in the incumbent column. It was not immediately clear if Shadegg’s decision would keep out Republicans who were thinking of running to replace him.

Attorney Bob Lord, who had banked more than $500,000 through the end of 2007, is running for the Democrats.

In Illinois, Baldermann’s decision to drop out comes after weeks of grumblings from GOP insiders that the candidate, who also is the police chief for nearby Chicago Ridge, was proving to be a reluctant fundraiser in the race to replace Weller.

Through the end of 2007, Baldermann’s campaign raised roughly $104,000. In contrast, state Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson, a top DCCC recruit, raised about $428,000 in 2007.

It remains unclear how and with whom Republicans will replace Baldermann on the November ticket, but the 11th district in the suburbs of Chicago remains a major Democratic pickup opportunity.

Baldermann’s departure marks the second time this cycle that a Land of Lincoln House hopeful dropped out of the race midstream. Late last year, former professional basketball coach Dick Versace, another DCCC recruit, abruptly dropped out of contention to replace retiring Rep. Ray LaHood (R). Democrats have yet to fill his slot on the November ballot.

Matthew Murray and David M. Drucker contributed to this report.

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