Congressman Bobby Bright: A Maverick Democrat in Republican Country

The new Alabama congressman has an independent streak, but Nancy Pelosi doesn't mind.

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With a 254-to-178 margin, Pelosi can afford some defections. It's the 49-strong "blue dog" Democrats, who are conservative deficit hawks, in the House who can give her heartburn. The dogs aggressively backed candidate Bright, and now he's joined their ranks.

Bright, in person, is friendly, folksy, and thoroughly Southern. When he speaks, it's "sharecroppah," for sharecropper, and "hep" for help. He favors a black Ford F-150 pickup, grits, fried chicken livers, and, to let off steam, duck shoots. He's addicted to orange circus peanuts; he devoured 10 bags during his first week in Congress, by his count. And when he reaches into his candy jar and finds it empty, he's left to utter, "Oh, man. I'm out."

Asked how he transcended humble beginnings, Bright says he set incremental goals and worked hard, beginning with his first job off the farm at age 11. He kept the mayor's job until the day before he entered Congress, not remembering a day when he wasn't employed. "I'm a workhorse, not a show horse," he says. "You won't find anybody on the Hill who will work harder than me. My goal now is to be the best congressman Alabama has ever seen."

Southern Democrats once dominated the House, though their numbers began to erode in the '60s. That change means the House now has 72 Southern Republicans and 59 Southern Democrats like Bright, leaving the GOP to eye the new arrival who has staked a claim on their reliably red soil.

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