Southern-based reporter Campbell Robertson profiled conservative Democratic Congressman Rep. Bobby Bright as his constituents see him in Monday's front-page story, "Rules for Alabama Democrat: Toe G.O.P. Line, and Be Liked." More specifically, Robertson looked at Bright from the perspective of some retirees hanging out at six a.m. at a Church's Chicken in Andalusia, Ala.
As hinted in the headline, the Times regards Democrats who vote conservative with suspicion. Robertson, an Alabama native, doesn't make an exception for Bright, pondering just how "deep-red" Alabama and Rep. Bright could be. Yet Republican politicians like John McCain were hailed (at least before 2008) as independent "maverick" thinkers for defying President Bush. And the paper never makes a fuss about deep-blue states like Massachusetts and Vermont.
Among the men who gather every morning at 6 o'clock at the Church's Chicken here on Three Notch Street, there is general agreement that the Obama administration is doing a very bad job of running the country. And the stakes are as high, as one coffee drinker put it, as the survival of the country's culture, economy and way of life.
Yet this group is represented in the House by a Democrat, Bobby Bright. And they are actually fond of him. For now.
"I like Bobby," said Glenn Cook, 72, a retired electrical engineer. "I think he's a great guy and a fine Christian man. But when he first came out, I wished that he'd been a Republican."
In the deep-red states of the South, it is very hard these days to be a Blue Dog, as members of the group of 52 centrist House Democrats are known. Suspicions about the Obama administration's expansive view of government power have made the Democratic label so toxic in some parts of the South that merely voting like a Republican - as many Blue Dogs do - may no longer be enough.
If that is true, Mr. Bright recently became Alabama's sole test case.
On Dec. 22, Representative Parker Griffith, a freshman representing the northernmost district in the state, announced that he was switching to the Republican Party. His defection was a bad sign for Democratic hopes of retaining seats in the South, specifically in Alabama, which has moved ever more securely into the Republican column since the mid-1960s, after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 permanently altered Southern politics.
Gratitude still abides in Mr. Griffith's district for President Franklin D. Roosevelt's creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which is one reason voters there have not sent a Republican to Congress for over 140 years. Mr. Griffith's calculation that he probably could not win as a Democrat indicates that the hostile reaction to Democrats over the past year has been intense enough to turn an already deeply red state - one that President Obama lost by more than 20 percentage points in 2008 - even redder.
Since winning, Mr. Bright has been such a purebred Blue Dog that he is practically red. He has voted with the Republicans on every significant piece of legislation of his term, including the health care overhaul, the budget and the "cap and trade" energy legislation.
Robertson ventured into similar territory in a September 2009 front-page profile of Republican Sen. David Vitter. Make that "Tainted Senator" Vitter, acccording to the headline over Robertson's hostile story.