Did Race Cost Artur Davis the Alabama Primary?

By Daisy Hernandez Jun 02, 2010

Alabama voters had a chance to make history last night and pick a Black Democrat nominee to run for governor but they said “No, thanks” in a big way, giving 62 percent of the vote to the state’s agriculture commissioner Ron Sparks, who’s white. Black Congressman Artur Davis got just 38 percent of the vote even though polls two weeks ago had put him ahead in the race. So everyone this morning is asking: What the hell happened in Alabama? The answer seems to be Davis’s decision to not seek the endorsement of the state’s traditional civil rights organizations. Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic, summed it up best: “You don’t get to just stand in front the people and say ‘Hey I’m black and smart’ and then wait for the torrent of civic pride.” Davis actually voted against health care reform—a move some commentators thought was meant to help win the conservative white vote statewide…you know, after he had secured his party’s nomination. The Birmingham News attributes Davis’s loss to the low voter turnout among Blacks although I haven’t been able to find actual numbers to back that up. The paper also points out that Davis’s opponent Sparks campaigned really hard on just one issue—legalizing, regulating and taxing Las Vegas-style gambling in Alabama, and it turns out Alabama Democrats really like that idea. I’m still wondering if commentators are downplaying the impact of the state’s education association which is a big political player and like the Black organizations got behind Sparks. From The Birmingham News: “More than half of the $517,000 that Sparks raised came from political action committees that were either directly or indirectly supplied by the Alabama Education Association or a variety of gambling businesses.” Davis was probably in the end too confident not just about the Black vote but the whole primary vote. Going conservative after all is something you do once you’re done getting your own party’s vote. Sparks, in contrast, went after the Black organizations, focused on one issue and campaigned like he was trying to win his own party over. Steven L. Taylor at Outside the Beltway: “Sparks ran, in many ways, as the traditional black politician.” And he won.