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Race Ratings: GOP Safe as Can Be in Alabama

When Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) signed a new Congressional map into law last week, he significantly strengthened the chances the Yellowhammer State will remain a delegation with six Republicans and one Democrat.

The GOP seats got safer, and the Republican-dominated Alabama Legislature added Democrats to freshman Rep. Terri Sewell’s 7th district, making it easier for her to win a second term. Freshman Rep. Martha Roby (R) had the narrowest victory margin in 2010, but the new map adds Republican areas to her district.

Sewell told Roll Call she was still reviewing the map, but she said as far as the statewide landscape goes, “It would be great if we could put more Democratic seats in play.”

Alabama Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford (D), who has been in the chamber since 1982, told Roll Call the map seems “ripe” for a lawsuit. And the Alabama Democratic Party said one was likely. Regardless of whether one is filed, the 1965 Voting Rights Act dictates that Alabama’s new districts must be pre-cleared by the Department of Justice or by a federal court before the law can be enacted.

1st District

Incumbent: Jo Bonner (R)

5th term (83 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

The Mobile-based 1st district, which includes all of Alabama’s coast, barely changes under the new Congressional lines, losing just a bit of territory in Clarke County to the 7th. Although it is by no means the most Republican district in the state, Bonner looks likely to easily win re-election in this solidly GOP area. A staunch conservative, Bonner has snagged victories in the past three cycles with more than 68 percent of the vote.

2nd District

Incumbent: Martha Roby (R)

1st term (51 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

In a 2010 television ad in his losing battle to hold on to his southern Alabama seat, former Rep. Bobby Bright (D) sold himself as “independent and conservative.” It was a good description for the 2nd district, even if voters didn’t believe it was a good description of Bright. After redistricting, the 2nd, anchored in the suburbs of Montgomery and covering the southeastern portion of the state, is more of the latter. That’s great news for Roby, who just barely squeaked out a win last cycle. She unseated Bright by just 4,857 votes out of almost 220,000 votes cast in a wave year for the GOP. (A spokeswoman said Roby was “very happy” with the final map.)

The new map pushes heavily Democratic western Montgomery County and Lowndes County into the 7th. Lowndes backed Bright over Roby last year, 74 percent to 26 percent. A Democratic operative in Washington said the right Alabama Democrat might be able to win back the seat. But until that challenger emerges, the district is safe for Roby. The Congresswoman is an able fundraiser, pulling in $214,000 in the first quarter.

3rd District

Incumbent: Mike Rogers (R)

5th term (59 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

The makeup of the 3rd has never made victory a stroll in the park for Rogers, but a bid for a sixth term will be a lot easier for him than ever before. According to figures crunched by a Republican source in Washington, Rogers got the biggest boost from the new map because the partisan tilt of the 3rd will move substantially to the right. Under the new district lines, the 3rd now includes the heavily Republican St. Claire County, where Sen. John McCain won 81 percent of the vote in 2008. It also splits over three districts the heavily Democratic Montgomery County, which sits mostly in the 3rd under the current lines.

4th District

Incumbent: Robert Aderholt (R)

8th term (unopposed)

Rating: Safe Republican

The 4th district changes geographically under the new map, though not politically. The district stretches from the Mississippi border to the Georgia state line. The 4th gained the northern portion of Tuscaloosa County and lost almost all of Blount County. Strengthening the GOP tilt of the 5th, the new lines split the Democratic Shoals region of the state, putting Colbert County in Aderholt’s district. This move particularly rankled Democrats in the state, who said the Shoals, split for the first time since Reconstruction, have a history of working together as a cohesive region.

Republican sources said Aderholt is unhappy with the substantive changes to his constituent base. Another source said the new map might force him to move his district offices. Still, he looks to be safe for re-election to a ninth term.

5th District

Incumbent: Mo Brooks (R)

1st term (58 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

Brooks beat Democrat Steve Raby in every county in the 5th except for Lawrence. So the new lines must be particularly welcome for the GOP because Lawrence and Colbert counties were moved to the 4th. Under the new map, the 5th district includes the five northernmost counties in the state along with Morgan County. Democrats see this district as a potential opportunity for a pickup. They cite the fact that until then-Rep. Parker Griffith switched parties in 2009 and became a Republican, a Democrat represented the 5th for more than 100 years. But under the new lines, a change of party here in 2012 would be quite a stretch.

6th District

Incumbent: Spencer Bachus (R)

10th term (unopposed)

Rating: Safe Republican

What would the safest of safe Republican districts look like if its new lines were drawn by a Republican Legislature and signed into law by a Republican governor in a ruby red state? Something like the 6th, centered on Birmingham’s suburbs.

Since he unseated Democratic Rep. Ben Erdreich (D) in 1992 with 52 percent of the vote, Bachus hasn’t received less than 70 percent of the vote. His chief of staff said Bachus plans to seek re-election.

7th District

Incumbent: Terri Sewell (D)

1st term (72 percent)

Rating: Safe Democratic

Located on the western border of the state, the 7th district snakes out to Birmingham to the north, Montgomery to the east and toward Mobile in the South. The district is 64 percent black and heavily Democratic. The new map added more Democrats to the 7th.

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