Sunday, June 6, 2010

Political Lessons: Alabama's Artur Davis

It wasn't just that Rep. Artur Davis was defeated in his bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Tuesday's Alabama primary. He got creamed. He lost to state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks by a 62 to 38 percent margin.

But every poll had Davis ahead, some by large margins, and that leads to wondering what happened. I was amazed at what I learned about the race, but I'm willing to share.  Take out your pens and take note.

Any smart politician knows to shore up their base. Davis was advised by top Democratic strategists, from the White House on down, to solidify his base. He never did that. Rep. Artur Davis' stunningly lopsided loss in the Alabama gubernatorial primary has been attributed, in large part, to his unwillingness to court the Democratic base and, in particular, black voters, who seemed completely un-enthused by the notion of electing the state's first African-American governor. Davis seemed to go after white support without even giving a nod to the state's influential black power brokers.

National media types were perplexed and shocked because they dubbed him "a rising black star". People who follow black politics closely were not shocked.  I hope national media outlets would stop lifting up black politicians as future stars. They have to earn it. Going to an Ivy League school doesn't guarantee success. Black voters are like anyone else: you must speak to them, work with them and not take them for granted.
This Davis did not do.  He ran a tone deaf campaign that ostracized and minimalized black voters. And lost. Badly.

Davis endorsed a whole lot of conservative-like positions during his eight years in Congress, such as supporting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, voting against a bill to prohibit workplace discrimination against gays, voting for a ban on partial birth abortion, backing a renewal of the Patriot Act, and voting to allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge in Alaska.

In addition, last year he was the only black member of Congress to vote against the health care bill — a decision that didn't go over well with everyone on his staff, let alone with the citizens of his impoverished 7th Congressional District.

And by trying to appeal to a basically conservative electorate, Davis either took for granted or simply ignored the black political establishment ... specifically, Joe Reed, the longtime black powerbroker who chairs the Alabama Democratic Conference. Reed and three other organizations ultimately endorsed Sparks.

Davis voted against health care — maybe a good position in Alabama in a general election, but a tough one to get around in a Democratic primary when half the electorate is black and so is the president of the United States. Davis' defeat is a good lesson for any African American or Hispanic politician who thinks they automatically will get support based on skin color or ethnicity.

The strains between Davis and the black community, indeed, ran far deeper than conventional wisdom ever held. So much so that Roland Martin, a prominent CNN analyst, syndicated columnist and television talk show host felt compelled to email the Huffington Post a withering critique of the Alabama Democrat for ducking African-American media.

Davis lost, Martin said, because "he was arrogant as hell."

Davis pointedly refused to do black media. He turned my TV One show down six times; he didn't do Tom Joyner's show, with 8 million listeners - TJ is a Tuskegee native; he turned down dozens of requests from Joe Madison of Sirius/XM; and he didn't do many others.

He assumed because of his skin blacks would flock to his campaign. Sparks outhustled him and worked black voters in a major way.

Artur Davis vowed that he would never run for political office again.  Go figure. Lessons learned.

Sources: Huffington Post, Washington Post, The Fix Blog and

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