ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Bobby Bright grew up a cotton farmer. Now, he's a member of the incoming freshman class in Congress, and he's helped redraw the political map in America. He's added a splash of blue to deep red Alabama.
Bright was the mayor of Montgomery. He beat his Republican opponent in Alabama's 2nd district by fewer than 2,000 votes. He adds his conservative pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-bailout politics to the Democratic mix in Washington now. NPR's Debbie Elliot reports.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT: For the first time since 1962, voters in southeast Alabama are sending a Democrat to Capitol Hill.
Representative-elect BOBBY BRIGHT (Democrat, Alabama): Oh, it's a dream come true.
ELLIOTT: Bobby Bright arrived for freshman orientation wearing a bright red tie as he joined his class for a photo shoot on the steps of the Capitol. He was eager to get to work.
Representative-elect BRIGHT: We've got to first and foremost reinstate confidence in our national economy, and the people are wanting us to do that. They're wanting us to do on a bipartisan basis, not to get up here and continue the lagerhead and - and that's what they sent me up here to do, and I intend to do that.
ELLIOTT: Bright has a reputation for working across both political and racial divides in his three terms as mayor of Montgomery, a non-partisan post. When long-time Republican Terry Everett decided to retire, both parties reached out to the popular mayor. Democratic Congressman Artur Davis, who grew up in Montgomery, helped to recruit Bright to run on the Democratic ticket.
Representative ARTUR DAVIS (Democratic, Alabama): Bobby Bright has had a cleansing effect on Montgomery. He's improved race relations in that community by a wide mile, and he's done an enormous amount to bring Montgomery together and to move into the 21st century.
ELLIOTT: Davis was co-chair of House Democrats' Red To Blue campaign this year. He says Bobby Bright won because his values reflect his conservative district, a district that voted overwhelmingly for John McCain in the presidential election. An attorney by profession, Bright highlighted his rural roots during the campaign.
(Soundbite of campaign ad)
Unidentified Man: Imagine a young boy raised in Dale County, Alabama, one of 14 children, a sharecropper's son named Bobby Bright. Bobby missed a week of school every year to bring in the cotton harvest.
ELLIOTT: Bright is a deacon at Montgomery's First Baptist Church, and on hot button social issues, he supports gun rights and restricting abortion. Congressman Artur Davis says Democratic pickups like this one could signal that party labels are losing sway in the Deep South.
Representative DAVIS: Southerners are realizing that Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia Democrats tend have a very different perspective on issues. The old tactic of saying, well, if you elect this person, they're going to be a rubber stamp for liberal Democrats in Congress, that kind of argument worked in 2002 and 2004. It doesn't work anymore.
ELLIOTT: Bobby Bright spent his first week on Capitol Hill taking care of the basics.
Representative-elect BRIGHT: Now, we're about to select where I'm going to be located for the next two years.
ELLIOTT: As for where he'll be located in the Democratic caucus, look for him to be a centrist, he says, and not one to toe the party line. He's already backing his party's leadership when it comes to a bailout for the auto industry.
Representative-elect BRIGHT: You know, I came up the hard way, and I was raised that you work hard, you achieve, and you become successful. And I never was taught that you work hard, you invest, and if it didn't go right, someone will come in and bail you out. That's not the American way, and I will be looking for an alternative route to that every way I possibly can as new member of this Congress.
(Soundbite of conference)
ELLIOTT: Bright drew a number 22 in the freshman office lottery. And so far, his top choices are still available.
Representative-elect BRIGHT: We dodged another bullet. They're all good offices. What am I saying? You know what? I'd have practiced out of my trunk in my car if they told me they didn't have office space for me. This is how proud I am to be here representing the people of Alabama.
ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News.
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