Our Senior U.S. Senator, Richard Shelby, is Alabama’s most premier and powerful politician. Shelby has enjoyed a stellar political career and taken a textbook path to stardom. He served eight years in the Alabama State Senate and eight more years as a U.S. Congressman. In 1986 Shelby took a leap of faith as a democratic congressman from Tuscaloosa and narrowly defeated the republican incumbent, Jeremiah Denton. He coasted to reelection in 1992 as a Democrat. In 1993, in perfect timing he switched to the Republican Party just in time to reap the rewards of being in the majority party in the Senate when the GOP took control of Congress.

Shelby has become a power in Washington during the last decade. He has basked in the fruits of the pork barrel as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He has not been shy about bringing home the bacon for Alabama.

Gov. Bob Riley currently rivals Shelby in pure popularity. Their approval ratings are both excellent and about equal. However, Riley has only been on the statewide political stage for five years, whereas Shelby has been our U.S. Senator for over twenty years. In addition, Riley is a GOP Governor with a democratic legislature. Therefore, his inherent power as Governor has been thwarted.

There are those who have speculated and touted Riley as a national candidate. Riley’s campaign gurus from his successful 2006 reelection run, David Azbell and Dax Swatek, have signed on as Sen. John McCain’s campaign managers for Alabama in his presidential bid. These two have stirred the rumor that McCain will have Riley on his short list for his vice-presidential running mate if McCain is the GOP Presidential nominee. This is not a likely scenario.

It is not likely that any republican face card from the south will be on the presidential ballot because they bring nothing to the table. Alabama and our sister Deep South states have become so republican that any GOP candidate will get our vote.

The irony is that as late as fifty years ago we southerners were so solidly democratic in presidential contests that we were referred to as “Yellow Dog Democrats.” Today we are so republican leaning in presidential politics that we could be called “Yellow Dog Republicans” because Alabamians would vote for a yellow dog if he were the Republican nominee for President.

Riley offers nothing more than other Deep South governors, like Haley Barbour or Sonny Purdue, and a lot less than Florida’s Charlie Crist who hails from a swing state with lots of electoral votes. Shelby would even be a more logical choice. However, do not bet on any southerner being on the ticket. So what does Riley do next? Unless Shelby retires in 2010 it looks like he goes home to Ashland.

Another star on the rise in Alabama is young Artur Davis, the 39 year old African American Congressman from the only minority district in Alabama. Davis went to Congress from the 7th District four years ago and has been on a fast track since his first day in Congress. His is seen as a superstar on the national scene. Artur is a Harvard educated lawyer and is extremely bright, attractive, and articulate. He makes no secret of his ambitions. Late last year he asserted that he might take on incumbent Sen. Jeff Sessions in a 2008 race. Soon after Artur launched that balloon he pulled back and announced he would not run in 2008 statewide but he would consider a race for Governor in 2010 or if Shelby retires the U.S. Senate seat that same year.

The respect for Artur in the House has placed him on the powerful and prestigious Ways and Means Committee, an amazing accomplishment for a third term congressman. He can be a power in Washington for the rest of his life if he does not lose his focus and pragmatism. There is an old saying in Washington that the political graveyard is full of congressmen who have left their safe House seat to try to leap to the Senate. The odds of a black congressman from a Deep South state landing in the political graveyard with that bold leap would be pretty good.

Bob Riley and Artur Davis might be the brightest political lights in our state but they both have nowhere to go and neither they nor anybody else should bet the farm that Shelby will retire in 2010. He fully intends to run and at age 71 he is young by U.S. Senate standards.