AL: GOP Runs Scared

Not long ago, Alabama Republicans could have felt confident of keeping the congressional seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Terry Everett, R-Rehobeth, in the state’s southeastern corner. And they could have been almost as optimistic about their chances of picking up the seat that U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville, recently opened up by also deciding to step down at the end of his current term.

Both goals remain within reach, observers said last week. But Democratic upsets in special congressional elections in Louisiana and Mississippi this month suggest that the bar has gotten higher.

“Republicans need to run scared,” said Merle Black, a specialist in Southern politics at Emory University in Atlanta.

In both special elections, Democrats captured open seats previously held by the GOP, in districts that President Bush carried handily four years ago. Particularly noteworthy was last week’s showdown in north Mississippi, where Democrat Travis Childers won with 54 percent of the vote against a well-funded opponent in a campaign highlighted by a last-minute appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney.

In Alabama’s seven-member House delegation, Repub licans have held a 5-2 advantage over Democrats since 1997. But record-high gas prices, the war in Iraq and the slumping economy have fed dissatisfaction with Bush nationally and, by extension, other GOP officeholders.

The times they are a changin’…….to quote Bob Dylan.