Why Artur Davis Lost in Alabama

Taking cues from Obama's playbook didn't bring Davis a victory.

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by Perry Bacon Jr.

The defeat of Rep. Artur Davis in his campaign to become Alabama's first black governor halted the rise of a man viewed as part of a new generation of young black politicians and showed the limits other politicians might face in using the tactics that helped Barack Obama win the presidency.

In what was widely thought to be a tight race, the state's agriculture commissioner, Ron Sparks, won the Democratic primary by 25 points. Davis looked stunned Tuesday as he gave his concession speech.

Davis helped run Obama's successful 2008 primary campaign in the state and modeled part of his strategy on that effort. Obama defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton -- winning more than 80 percent of the black vote -- even as he generally eschewed discussion of his race and sought to build a coalition of supporters, black and white, beyond the state's traditional powerbrokers.

Davis adopted both of these ideas, but also made a move Obama did not in either his Senate campaign in 2004 or in the presidential run: moving to the right. With an eye on winning the general election in a conservative-leaning state, Davis angered liberals by not only voting in Congress against the national health-care legislation Obama championed, but actually attacking Sparks for supporting it.

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