Democratic Rep. Bobby Bright (Ala.) on Wednesday ducked a question on whether or not he would vote for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) by joking that she "might even get sick and die."
Bright, a centrist Blue Dog who voted against the healthcare reform law, made the comments in response to a question about whether he'd support Pelosi to retain the Speaker's gavel.
He then suggested "jokingly" that Pelosi could fall ill and die in the coming months, thus preventing him from having to vote for her as Speaker. His remarks reportedly drew laughter from the audience.
Bright's comments highlight how Democrats running for reelection in red states are distancing themselves from the Speaker, a liberal icon who is unpopular with many voters, according to several polls.
Republicans are using Pelosi as a weapon against many Democrats whose voting records are centrist. In some cases, the GOP argues Democrats should be turned out of office simply because of their votes for Pelosi as Speaker.
For example, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) is in a toss-up race even though she voted against the healthcare law and climate-change legislation supported by Pelosi. Her opponent argues that Sandlin's vote for Pelosi is the one voters should remember.
Two House Democrats, Reps. Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyOvernight Finance: Senate punts on Zika funding | House panel clears final spending bill | Biz groups press Treasury on tax rules | Obama trade rep confident Pacific deal passes this year Overnight Healthcare: Lawmakers leave for summer without approving new Zika funds Dems block defense spending bill for second time MORE (Ind.) and Jason Altmire (Pa.), have run television ads that hit at Pelosi.
Advertiser reporter Cosby Woodruff later expanded on his report, telling The Hill that Bright made his comment in response to a question about voting for Pelosi.
"He ran down a long list of reasons that he might not have to vote for her. At the end, he said something about her getting sick and passing away," he said.
"I asked him afterwards and he confirmed — he said, 'heck, she might even get sick and die.' "
Bright's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Cook Political Report lists Bright's seat as leaning Democratic, but he represents a district that Sen. John McCainJohn McCainPrimary opponent: McCain has 'issues about race' Clinton, Trump sharpen attacks The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ariz.) won in the 2008 presidential race with 68 percent of the vote.
—This story was updated at 12:37 p.m.