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Congressional Candidates Eye Obama's Coattails

Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, left, with the Rev. Joseph Rembert, the Rev. Andrew Young and the Rev. Michael Thurman, may benefit from the Obama factor in his Democratic House bid.
Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, left, with the Rev. Joseph Rembert, the Rev. Andrew Young and the Rev. Michael Thurman, may benefit from the Obama factor in his Democratic House bid. (By Regina H. Boone -- Detroit Free Press)

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By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray
Sunday, March 2, 2008

Could Bobby Bright be an Obama baby in November?

Bright, the mayor of Montgomery, Ala., announced last week that he will run for the state's open 2nd District House seat. While Bright's decision didn't draw much attention nationally, his candidacy could well serve as a litmus test for just how long Sen. Barack Obama's coattails might be if the Illinois Democrat winds up as the party's nominee.

Bright's decision to run as a Democrat -- he was courted by both parties -- seems to be counter to conventional wisdom because of the district's long Republican roots. A polling memo released by his campaign in conjunction with his announcement provides some insight into why Bright made the decision.

One of the four talking points from the survey, which shows Bright leading state Sen. Harri Anne Smith (R) by 43 percent to 38 percent and state Rep. Jay Love (R) by 46 percent to 27 percent, makes note of the district's considerable black population.

"More than one-quarter (28%) of registrants in the 2nd District are African American," the memo said. "Winning 90 percent of the African-American vote on election day could add 3-5 points to Bright's current vote against Smith and Love."

Asked about what Obama's leading the ticket could mean to his candidacy, Bright said it would have "quite a bit" of influence in the district -- driving up black turnout to record or near-record levels. Like any good politician, Bright quickly pivoted to argue that, regardless of who leads the Democratic ticket, "the people of District 2 need quality representation" that he said he can offer.

A quick look at other districts with high black populations currently held by Republicans turns up a few seats that are expected to be hotly contested this fall, and where a surge in the African American vote could make a difference.

Among those districts: Louisiana's 6th (35.5 percent black), Louisiana's 4th (34.1), Alabama's 3rd (32), North Carolina's 8th (29.5) and Ohio's 1st (28.7). All figures are according to the 2000 census.

In both of the Louisiana seats, Republican incumbents are retiring, although in the 6th, Rep. Richard H. Baker's resignation means a special election this spring and then a race for a full two-year term in the fall.

Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.) has represented Alabama's 3rd District since 2002 and has not faced a serious reelection fight yet. National Democrats are making noise about challenging him, and Democratic lawyer Joshua Segall entered the contest earlier this month.

In North Carolina's 8th District, Democrat Larry Kissell -- the man who came within 329 votes of beating Republican Rep. Robin Hayes in 2006 -- is back for a rematch. And in Ohio's 1st District, Democrats have also found a solid recruit in state Rep. Steven L. Driehaus. Still, Rep. Steve Chabot (R), who has held the seat since 1994, is a formidable campaigner accustomed to winning in a tough district.

It's not only in challenger races that House Democrats could benefit from an uptick in black turnout, however. Democratic incumbents such as Rep. Jim Marshall (Ga.) and John M. Spratt Jr. (S.C.) sit in Republican-leaning districts that also have significant black populations.

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