Tip O’Neill’s famous quote that “all politics is local” is nowhere truer this year than in Alabama’s second congressional district, where both the Democratic and Republican candidates are deacons at the same Southern Baptist church.
The race pits Republican State Rep. Jay Love against Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright for an open House of Representatives seat created by the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Terry Everett. Both Love and Bright worship at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, a leading supporter of the Alabama Baptist Convention, and both serve as deacons.
The coincidence might say less about diversity of Southern Baptists than the subtleties of precinct politics. Bright had never declared a political party before. Faced with a choice of facing a tough primary battle against multiple opponents or taking his chances in a district held by Republicans since 1964, he ultimately opted to run as a Democrat.
Bright said he ultimately chose the Democratic Party, because it would grant him political independence. He positions himself as a maverick who pledged to join the Blue Dog Democrats, a coalition of mostly Southern representatives committed to fiscal conservatism and national security instead of partisan loyalty.
But political observers point out that more than one quarter (28 percent) of registered voters in the far-flung 2nd District are African-American, meaning Bright would likely benefit from the coattails of a strong black turnout to vote for presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The strategy appears to be working. A recent poll showed Bright leading Love 47 percent to 37 percent, with 15 percent undecided.
Both candidates say they voted for Mike Huckabee in the presidential primary. Bright said it proves that in Washington he would put principle ahead of party loyalty. “He is a very smart man and I know what his beliefs are,” Bright told the Dothan Eagle. “He’s a Southern Baptist minister and I’ve been a Southern Baptist deacon for 14 years.”
Love’s campaign said once in office Bright would be beholden to Democrats, and that if he’s honest he should return money he’s received from national and state Democrats over the years. Despite his appeal to what has been termed “Bright Republicans,” Love spokesman Michael Lowry said, Bright is “no more a Republican than Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama.”
According to an Associated Press story, such sniping hasn’t yet made its way into Montgomery’s First Baptist Church.
“Just because he’s a Democrat and I’m a Republican is no reason we can’t worship and serve together,” Love said.
“Both of us are deacons, brothers in the same church,” Bright said.
Love said the two men attend different worship services and run into each other only about once a month, but their meetings are always cordial.
Love is endorsed by Alabama Citizens for Life, but Bright is also pro-life, opposing abortion on demand except in extreme cases like rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.
Love’s service in the legislature won him a 94 percent rating from the Christian Coalition, while Bright recently showed up at an Alabama Christian Coalition event to support the group’s opposition to electronic bingo.
Bright supports keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, but only until the war reaches a point where they can leave with “dignity and honor.” He supports sealing America’s borders and says he would never support “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. He opposes repeal of the Patriot Act, but does voice concerns about how it is implemented.
He says he doesn’t know to what extent global warming is man-made, but he supports cleaning up the environment until the science is settled.
While his opponent supports offshore drilling and opening up areas for exploration for oil, Bright says he would drill in protected areas only as a last resort.
He is against gun control.
The national Republican Party is taking the prospect of losing a seat to Bright seriously. Love, a businessman who once owned 16 Subway Sandwich shops, was the only Alabamian and one of just five non-incumbent congressional candidates who spoke at the Republican National Convention.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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