Last week, Rep. Artur Davis (D) lost his primary bid for Governor of Alabama in a crushing defeat. His opponent, Ron Sparks, won by 25 points in a contest which some believe shows that the race-based politics of the south have not changed. This conclusion has been postulated because traditional, non-elected black, political stakeholders seem to have temporarily derailed the career of one of the Democratic Party’s fastest rising black stars.
Before the emergence of Barack Obama on the national presidential scene, lots of Democrats felt that Davis would eventually become the nation’s first black president - especially members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). His credentials were incredible. In fact he was a classmate of President Obama at Harvard Law. He was incredibly articulate and what he lacked in charismatic speeches, he made up for in strategic thinking and networking ability.
Davis won his Congressional seat in 2002 defeating incumbent Earl Hilliard in a strongly Republican state. In those early days, he quickly became the darling of the CBC. In 2008, Davis successfully ran President Obama’s primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. He was the architect of the statewide strategy, which avoided discussing race, but built a multi-racial coalition, which went around the traditional black power brokers (who all supported Clinton). Naturally, he presented his friend and schoolmate as a centrist candidate who would be less polarizing than Hillary Clinton. The message that Davis echoed in Alabama was that the days of race-based identity politics were over and a new era of politics had dawned.
As a result of this brilliant messaging, Obama won over 80 percent of the black primary vote, although the state went for McCain with over 60 percent of the vote in the actual presidential election. After the Obama victory, Davis felt encouraged to run for the governor’s seat in Alabama. He wanted to break an Alabama glass ceiling. This would have made him the first black governor in the state, which was the home of the original capital of the confederacy (Montgomery). Alabama is the same state in which Martin Luther King spearheaded the civil rights movement in 1955 and where George Wallace, a former governor, became famous for the statement, “segregation now and segregation for ever” in 1963.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.