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Can Artur Davis Make History?



Alabama Rep. Artur Davis is running for governor in 2010. AP Photo/Butch Dill

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.

As we wrote recently:

"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.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 20, 2009; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party , Governors  
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Comments

The Fix writes:

"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."

Call me crazy, but it seems like The Fix is saying that being "Republican-friendly" makes some voters less inclined to support black politicians because of their race. That's a very serious accusation, and I hope he clarifies it.

Posted by: FriendlyGuy1 | May 22, 2009 12:31 AM | Report abuse

Artur Davis knows where he came from and what chords can be struck in his State. We tend to underestimate people that have risen through the ranks, there is always a very good reason .. that allowed them a high level of success. Good instincts, intelligence and presentation.. he exhibits all of these assets.

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 21, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

"A black governor in the deep south?
Interesting, but I'll believe it only when I see it.

We've only had TWO elected black governors in US history: Doug Wilder (1989) and Deval Patrick (2006)

Posted by: sgtpepper23 | May 21, 2009 3:26 AM"

-----

Yup, and people right here in Virginia were saying "I'll believe it when I see it" up to the day that Doug Wilder was elected. I'm still amazed and proud.

After Governor Wilder was sworn in, the General Assembly decided to honor this milestone event by permanently retiring the then-Virginia state song, "I Wish I was in Dixie" (the lyrics are written as though sung by a former slave who yearns to be back on the plantation). As a Virginia legislator, Wilder had battled for years to drop the song, but his colleagues didn't see a problem with it at that time.

All of which is to say, when it comes to racial barriers and perceptions, all bets are off as far as I'm concerned! Once things start to change, they really change.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | May 21, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I think this deep south talk in a little antiquated.. when we have family gatherings.. we have quite a deep south mix from.. Guatemala, Jamaica, Asia, Mexico..

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 21, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

I would gladly vote for Davis over a pro-choice Republican like Arnold.

Posted by: JakeD | May 21, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

I remember being extremely impressed with Rep. Davis during the House hearings into the U.S. Attorneys scandal.

His questions were always insightful and cut right to the heart of the matter.

I was hoping Obama would pick him for AG, but maybe Davis was more interested in running for Governor.

Posted by: Bondosan | May 21, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

"A black governor in the deep south?
Interesting, but I'll believe it only when I see it."

I think its more likely than an Indian in Louisiana. I think the D might be more of a hindrance than the skin color.

Posted by: DDAWD | May 21, 2009 4:37 AM | Report abuse

A black governor in the deep south?
Interesting, but I'll believe it only when I see it.

We've only had TWO elected black governors in US history: Doug Wilder (1989) and Deval Patrick (2006)

Posted by: sgtpepper23 | May 21, 2009 3:26 AM | Report abuse

The times they are a-changin'.

Posted by: nodebris | May 20, 2009 10:45 PM | Report abuse

This is a bit premature. They released the poll because the old guard Democrats in Alabama are searching for another candidate and Artur is trying to scare them off. Anzalone is great at well-times polls.

Also, Byrne hasn't even announced he's running yet. Knowing the landscape, I would be concerned to be only five points ahead of a guy nobody knows.

Posted by: MrJinks1 | May 20, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

If you don't live in the southeast, you don't understand race relations here.

Posted by: newbeeboy | May 20, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

The Fix writes
"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."

Doesn't Gwen Ifill have a book on the subject coming out one of these days?

Posted by: bsimon1 | May 20, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Davis is the clear leader right now in AL. He has done an a fantastic job his 3.5 terms in congress, and if he runs his campaign with the same effectiveness, he will be the next governor of Alabama.

Posted by: jpsherer | May 20, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Well, Rep. Davis DID vote to restrict interstate transport of minors to get abortions and to ban partial-birth abortion. He's probably better than any other Dem up for the job.

Posted by: JakeD | May 20, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

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