This is the fourth edition of a research project at PoliticusUSA known as Taking Back the House. You can check out the previous edition here. The purpose of this project is to analyze each Republican Congressional district in the United States and see how likely the district can go ‘Blue.’ To do this, I will take a look at the overall demographics of the district, as well as review the historical voting patterns and the record of the Congressperson representing the district. This series will run until we’ve looked at every single district in the country, which should take us right into the 2014 campaign season.
Congressional District: Alabama 5th
U.S. Representative: Mo Brooks
Median Household Income: $46,886 (National Average: $51,017)
Unemployment Rate: 9.6% (National Rate: 7.2%)
Gender: 51% Female, 49% Male (National Percentages: 50.8% Female, 49.2% Male)
Age: 13.8% 65 and over (National Percentage: 12.8%)
Race: 77% White, 17.5% Black, 1.4% Asian (National Percentages: 72.4% White, 12.6% Black, 4.8% Asian)
Ethnicity: 95.1% Non-Hispanic, 4.9% Hispanic (National Percentages: 83.6% Non-Hispanic, 16.4% Hispanic)
Urban/Rural Population Split: 65.5% Urban, 34.5% Rural (National Split: 82% Urban, 18% Rural)
District Voting Patterns: Alabama’s 5th District has a very interesting history in regards to party affiliations and voting patterns. Up until very recently, this district had been represented by the Democratic Party since Reconstruction. Even after the Dixiecrats ran to the Republican Party in the ’60s, the 5th continued to support Democratic candidates even while it voted Republican for the Senate and President. From 1998 to 2006, Bud Cramer won each race by at least 39 points, and ran unopposed in 2006.
Cramer represented the district for nine consecutive terms before he surprisingly decided to retire rather than run for reelection in 2008. Cramer was a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, and he was known for having conservative views on social issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control. He also tended to vote with Republicans on fiscal issues, as he voted for the 2003 Bush tax cuts. So, while Cramer was a Democrat while in Congress, he broke party ranks often and could be described as a conservative. This has been explained as a result of him nearly losing his seat in 1994 during the Republican takeover that year. His voting record was much more liberal in his first two terms. However, after he sweated out a close reelection in 1994, he started leaning further and further to the right.
After Cramer decided not to seek another term in 2008, Parker Griffith won the seat in a closely contested race with Republican Wayne Parker. Parker was the same one who pushed Cramer to the brink in 1994. However, shortly after getting to Washington, Griffith decided to switch parties. He officially became a Republican on December 22nd, 2009, less than a year after being sworn in. Griffith said it was his objection to the ACA that led him to make this switch.
Griffith would not get reelected, as he lost the Republican primary in 2010 to Mo Brooks by a significant margin. Brooks was backed by a lot of conservative PAC money in his primary fight with Griffith, and defeated him by 18 points. Brooks then won against Democrat Steve Raby by nearly 16 points. He won reelection in 2012 by an even larger margin, as he defeated Charlie L. Holley 65-35. The district went for Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential election by 29 points. John McCain easily carried the district in 2008, 63-36.
Congressional Activity by Brooks: While Brooks isn’t officially a member of the Tea Party Caucus, he seems to at least be very sympathetic to their cause. He voted against reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling limit on October 16th, therefore casting a vote to allow the nation to default on its debts. The Alabama Congressman also has been outspoken against the ACA and illegal immigration. Brooks appears to be an isolationist, as he objected to NATO military action in Libya and felt that operations in Afghanistan should have ceased after the death of Osama bin Laden.
Per OpenCongress, Brooks votes with the Republican Party 92% of the time. While that means he pretty much follows the party line, he will stray from time to time. The National Journal ranked Brooks as the 74th most conservative member of Congress in 2012. Besides voting against raising the debt ceiling recently, he also voted against the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ deal on January 1st. One notable stray from the party came on HR 273, which was a cost saving move to shave $11 billion from the budget over the next 10 years. The bill passed the House by a decently wide margin, but Brooks voted against it. The bill called for a prevention of a 0.5% pay increase for federal workers. He could have voted against it due to the large number of federal workers in his district.
Like most Southern Republicans, Brooks is very conservative on social issues. In particular, he is very much against abortion. Brooks has co-sponsored bills in the House to stop all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. He’s also against stem cell research, thus showing how deep his pro-life roots really are. As stated before, he’s a very vocal critic of illegal immigration. He co-sponsored over a dozen bills in Congress since coming to Washington that deal with immigration and border security.
Notable Quotes by Brooks:
“As your congressman on the house floor, I will do anything short of shooting them. Anything that is lawful, it needs to be done because illegal aliens need to quit taking jobs from American citizens.” – In an interview with Huntsville reporter Venton Blandin on June 29th, 2011.
“Now, you want to talk about the problems associated with the Great Depression? They’re a cakewalk compared to what can happen to our country if we don’t start acting responsibly in Washington, D.C., to try to get this deficit under control.” – In a speech to the Madison County Republic Men’s Club on September 17th, 2011
Odds of District Going Blue in 2014: Outside chance. Yes, Brooks won in 2012 by a handy margin. However, there are some things that point to a potential backlash and a possible turning of the tide. The district is home to Redstone Arsenal, an Army post that employs around 40,000 government and contract workers. That is where NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is headquartered. It’s probably fair to say that those who were affected, either directly or tangentially, by the government shutdown won’t look kindly at a Congressman who supported it.
Of course, this is still Alabama, and white social conservatism still rules the day. And the 5th District’s demographics tend to say that the Republicans will hold on to this seat. However, compared to the rest of the state, this district does have a higher median income, as it is close to the national average. On top of that, the college graduation rate is higher than most of the state, as close to 30% of residents have at least a bachelor’s degree. With over three-quarters of the population white, and over a third of them living in rural areas, you do have a large section that falls right into the typical Tea Party demographic. In the end, it is more likely than not that Brooks will keep his seat in 2014. But, I do think he’ll at least have to sweat it out this time.
Justin is the Managing Editor and a Contributing Writer for Politicus Sports, PoliticusUSA’s very own sports site. You can check out the site here.