Can Artur Davis Make History?
New polling from the gubernatorial campaign of Alabama Rep. Artur Davis suggests he starts in strong position to be elected as the state's first African American governor.
Davis is over 50 percent in the survey, which was conducted by Anzalone-Liszt Research, against the two other Democrats in the race: Alabama Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb (54 percent-25 percent) and state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks (56 percent-26 percent).
Davis pollster John Anzalone said that the poll's Democratic primary sample was 46 percent African-American, a "conservative" estimate based on recent statewide races where blacks comprised between 52 percent and 58 percent of the Democratic primary vote.
In a general election, Davis leads attorney Bradley Byrne (R) 43 percent to 38 percent, according to the polling.
Davis's strong showing appears to be creditable at least in part to the surprisingly strong standing of President Obama in the state. Nearly six in ten Alabama voters like Obama personally (57 percent favorability) and believe he is doing a good job (58 percent positive) -- numbers all the more striking when one considers that Obama won only 39 percent in Alabama last November.
While Davis downplays comparisons between himself and Obama, it's hard to ignore the obvious similarities -- young, black, Harvard educated and running largely post-racial candidacies focused only tangentially on the color of their skin.
One of the unanswered questions from the 2008 election was whether Obama's history-making victory as the country's first black president was an isolated case attributable to his unique political skills and positioning or whether it would have a residual effect on the way in which voters saw black candidates in future races.
"The question that each of these candidacies will seek to answer is whether having a black president will influence how voters think about their in-state politicians. Put another way: Does having Obama in the White House make it easier for Georgia or Alabama voters to see the possibility that their own governor could be black?"
The early poll numbers out of Alabama suggest that seeing a black president on television every day may be having some effect -- conscious or unconscious -- on the perceptions of voters even in the Republican-friendly deep South.
Two caveats: It's still very early -- the primary in Alabama isn't for another year -- and the polling cited above was paid for by Davis's campaign.
That said, should Davis make history as the first African-American governor of the Yellowhammer State, he is likely to owe a major debt to Obama's trailblazing candidacy last fall.
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