A few years ago I was having dinner in Washington with one of the more recognizable names in Democratic politics. A gregarious African-American man stopped by the table to pay his respects to my dinner partner. As his visitor walked away, the Democrat turned to me and declared: “Future Speaker of the House.”
“Who is that?” I asked.
“Artur Davis, Congressman from Alabama. Wicked smart. Watch him.”
Now via Ben Smith I see the striking news that, after his harsh defeat in Alabama’s Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday, a dejected Davis has announced that he’s done with politics and will “find something else productive to do with [my] life.”
Davis’s stunning defeat–he blew a 30-point lead and lost by 24 points–is a complicated thing. He was not felled by white prejudice (though he did lose the white vote) but rather was crushed by his white opponent, state Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks, even in several overwhelmingly black areas. That was an apparent rejection of his post-racial strategy–presumably geared towards the general election–of refusing to kowtow for the endorsements of the state’s major African-American groups (all of which sided with Sparks). Not that race was the only factor. Davis also suffered from his vote against Obama’s health care plan (not a good way to win over Democrats, even in Alabama) and his opposition to a Sparks-backed state lottery to fund education programs.
Davis’s flameout perhaps suggests that he isn’t as brilliant as my dinner companion thought, at least when it comes to electoral politics. Maybe he discovered–rather like Hillary Clinton in 2008–that studiously positioning yourself for a general election can unexpectedly cost you a primary. Or maybe he was just the latest casualty of anti-Washington anger burning through America.
Whatever the case, it looks like the first black Speaker of the House will be someone other than Artur Davis.