- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

The political shift that put Democrats in control of Congress two years ago barely registered in Alabama, with Republican incumbents breezing to re-election.

But two of the state’s longest-serving congressmen are retiring this year, giving Alabama Democrats their best chance in years to expand their presence in Washington.

On Tuesday, voters will decide which candidates face off in November to claim the rare vacancies.

While Democrats are rallying behind two presumed front-runners, Republicans have a fight on their hands, and it might take a runoff in July to determine their nominees.

Southeastern Alabama’s 2nd District could be the most competitive.

The seat, held by retiring eight-term Rep. Terry Everett, has been in Republican hands since 1964 and voted 67 percent for President Bush in 2004.

But Democrats landed the candidate who they wanted in Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, and they point to recent Republican losses in Mississippi and Louisiana as evidence that dissatisfaction with the party is trickling into the South.

Mr. Bright is expected to easily defeat political newcomers Cendie Crawley and Cheryl Sabel in the Democratic primary.

The Republican field is far more crowded with six candidates, including three state lawmakers and a surgeon who has pumped more than $500,000 of his own money into his campaign. Unless one of them can squeeze out 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers would compete in a July 15 runoff.

That could prove expensive, draining cash that could be spent on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts for the general election.

The Republican candidates are state Sen. Harri Anne Smith of Slocomb, state Rep. Jay Love of Montgomery, state Rep. David Grimes of Montgomery, oral surgeon Craig Schmidtke of Dothan, television station owner David Woods of Montgomery and retired Army helicopter pilot John Martin of Dothan.

The other seat drawing interest is northern Alabama’s 5th District being vacated by retiring Rep. Robert E. “Bud” Cramer.

Mr. Cramer, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, has held the seat since 1990, even as it has leaned Republican in other races, including giving Mr. Bush 60 percent of the vote in 2004.

Democrats say they have found Mr. Cramer’s successor in state Sen. Parker Griffith.

Mr. Griffith, a wealthy oncologist from Huntsville, faces token opposition in the Democratic primary from political newcomer David Maker, a Huntsville physicist.

The Republican primary is more complicated.

Many insiders consider Wayne Parker, a Huntsville insurance executive, the front-runner. But Mr. Parker has lost two previous campaigns to win the seat from Mr. Cramer in 1994 and 1996. He faces opposition from former state Rep. Angelo Mancuso, a Decatur physician, Huntsville lawyers Ray McKee and Cheryl Baswell Guthrie, Madison manufacturing salesman George Barry, and Mark Huff, who plays the double bass in the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra.

Alabama has seven congressional districts, with five held by Republicans. If Democrats win both open seats, the party would have three congressmen from Alabama for the first time in more than a decade.

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