Rep. Bright becomes healthcare debate test case looking toward elections

Democrats are nervous about the political implications of the healthcare debate and Republicans think they have found a prime target in Rep. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.).
 
Protecting incumbents like Bright next year will prove a challenge for Democrats.
 

ADVERTISEMENT
Around the country in 2008, several members won narrow elections on the strength of higher-than-average turnout, fueled largely by excitement over the presidential race that favored Democrats. In 2010, though, President Barack Obama will not be on the ballot, giving Republicans hope that they can win back those seats.
 
And, National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Andy Sere hinted, Republicans will go after Bright for his "sharp left turn toward Obama's reckless agenda."
 
"After just eight months in Congress, [Bright] has lost touch with everyday Alabamians," Sere said.
 
Bright maintains he can win without Obama's coattails, and that he will rise and fall on the strength of his own record. Obama only took 36 percent of Bright’s southeastern Alabama district in 2008.
 
"I didn't run on anybody's coattails. I ran on Bobby Bright's reputation and his work product and his ethical foundation. That's why I got elected," he said in an interview with The Hill. "I am a true blue representative of the people I represent. They know my record of being fair."
 
But Bright gives Obama the benefit of the doubt in the healthcare debate, acknowledging that despite the fact the two do not agree on the results so far, at least the president is doing something.
 
"He was dealt a really tremendous and complicated hand when he became president, and you can't say he is not trying to do something," Bright said. "Whether it was Obama or whomever, it took someone to act and do things out there and assert a tremendous amount of effort to right some of the delicate issues that have gone wrong."
 
Bright, one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, is fighting back against GOP allegations, asserting that he is as concerned with the healthcare proposals on the table as his constituents back home.
 
"When you're talking about or addressing or changing healthcare, that affects everybody out there, and my district is no different," Bright said. "They're very concerned and very attentive to what we're doing on the Hill, like they should be, like every patriotic citizen across the country."
 
Bright has said he opposes a public option, but he has yet to make up his mind on the Senate Finance Committee's legislation, which includes privately-owned co-ops.
 
"I've not supported any of the healthcare bills as they stand today. I'd say 75 to 80 percent of the people in my district do not [either]," Bright said. He added that he is waiting for "drastic" changes to the measures, and that he will not vote for a bill that includes a tax hike.
 
Still, the NRCC says Bright has "gone Washington," according to Sere. Sere cited comments Bright made in a radio interview where the congressman said no growth in the Consumer Price Index would mean no cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security.
 
No cost-of-living adjustment "hurts people," Bright said in the radio interview, "but it also keeps our taxes down. So you can't have your cake and eat it too."
 
If a wave election happens next year, Bright could be vulnerable, especially if a qualified Republican steps up to challenge him. The GOP thinks it has found that candidate in Martha Roby, a city councilwoman in Montgomery who announced her candidacy in May.
 
Republicans have already signaled they will seek to tie Bright to healthcare, and to House Democratic leadership. The party has highlighted comments Bright has made giving Obama decent grades on his handling of the debate and the congressman's unwillingness to back away from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
 
Roby, too, says Pelosi will play a big role, both in the healthcare debate and in her contest against Bright.
 
"Her leadership that sets the agenda, the liberal agenda, is not representative of the values of the Second Congressional District," Roby told The Hill. "The response coming out of the district is that the citizens of Alabama's Second Congressional District are absolutely opposed to government-run healthcare."
 
"Alabama is a conservative state, and the Second District is a conservative district, and I don't believe our conservative voices are being heard," Roby added. "I have a record of common-sense leadership, of voting and fighting against tax increases. My values represent those of the people in this district."
 
And though his freshman colleague, Rep. Parker Griffith (D-Ala.), has said he will not vote for Pelosi for speaker, Bright says Pelosi made him promise on one of his first days in Washington that he would be independent-minded.
 
"I have been [independent-minded] and she has not bothered me one bit at all with any of my votes," Bright said. "Pelosi has been very professional toward me."
 
But, he acknowledged: "She's not very popular in a conservative district like mine."