GOP seizes on Bright comments to pressure Democrats on Pelosi

A conservative House Democrat’s statement that he won’t support Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for another term is ramping up pressure on other vulnerable incumbents who have been dodging the question.

Republicans have seized on the comments by freshman Rep. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.), who told a local television station on Thursday that neither Pelosi nor House Republican leader John Boehner (Ohio) would get his vote in January. While the defection is the first by an incumbent Democrat, it could complicate Pelosi’s bid to keep the Speaker’s gavel if her party retains a slim majority in the House after Election Day.

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“It certainly puts pressure on other Democrats to follow suit,” said Andy Sere, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Their excuse kind of evaporates when one of their colleagues takes the ball and runs with it.”

Sere added that Republicans aren’t letting Bright off the hook. “We don’t trust Bobby Bright to remain true to his word,” he said.

Republicans have hammered conservative House Democrats for their vote to make Pelosi the Speaker in January 2009, looking for campaign ammunition against opponents who voted against most of the Democratic legislative agenda. A number of Democrats, such as Bright, voted against healthcare reform, the stimulus and cap-and-trade legislation.

Faced with tight re-election races and the liberal Speaker’s high disapproval ratings in swing districts, a growing number of House Democrats have refused to commit to Pelosi for another term. A few, including Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) have said they would prefer another, more centrist candidate.

Several lawmakers have responded to the question by saying they don’t know who the candidates for Speaker will be after the election – a curious statement given that Pelosi has made no secret of her intention to run again, and no other Democrat has yet stepped up to challenge her.

Bright hails from a heavily Republican district and compiled the most conservative voting record of any House Democrat. He made national headlines in August by joking that Pelosi “could get sick and die” before the election when he was asked if he would vote for her again for Speaker. His campaign is running an ad that shows side-by-side pictures of him with Boehner and touts his Republican voting record. On Thursday, he went a step further and ruled out supporting Pelosi. “I will vote for someone, a centrist, who is much more like me,” he told WFSA in Alabama.

Demonstrating political independence from unpopular party leaders is a staple of competitive elections, and Pelosi has turned the other cheek when asked about the Democrats who have distanced themselves from her. “I just want them to win,” she said on the PBS Newshour last month.

But Pelosi’s bigger problem could be a mathematical one. If Bright wins re-election, Republicans would need only a 38-seat pick-up to deny Pelosi another term, even if they don’t win the majority outright. Taylor, another conservative Democrat in a strong re-election position, has said he wants a more centrist candidate and has voted against Pelosi for Speaker in 2005, although he supported her in 2009.

Pelosi allies have shown few signs of panic about her standing, and fund-raising assistance from party accounts that she controls could help keep more conservative Democrats from defecting. “She will be Speaker,” one source close to the Democratic leadership said flatly on Friday.

That prediction will depend not only on the size of the Republican wave in November, but on how many more Bobby Brights emerge before Election Day.

An earlier version of this story attributed comments by Andy Sere to a different spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.