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The political hokey-pokey

Davis strategy allows for closer win in June
to enhance prospects for victory in November

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Bold and audacious wins the day, Artur Davis likely thought when developing his strategy for becoming Alabama’s first black governor. A traditional approach would not lead to the non-traditional outcome that he seeks.

That scores of Democrats are sore at Davis is part of the plan, seemingly an odd part since Davis is asking them to make him their champion, but still an anticipated bump in the road on his way to Montgomery and the governor’s mansion.

Thus the sly smile that remains on Davis’ face even as frowning Democratic poobahs at the garden party look first at the punch bowl and then at Davis. 

The congressman hinted all along that he was not your daddy’s Alabama Democrat from the very beginning when he brought an end to his congressional predecessor Earl Hilliard’s Libyan vacations. Later he rocked the boat again, serving as the Barack Obama campaign’s state chairman in 2008 while the state’s Democratic establishment rallied to Hillary Clinton. Well, we all know how that one turned out, so should it be any great surprise that Davis isn’t now kow-towing to the party’s powerbrokers and vote delivery men?

The incident that exposed a broader Democratic backlash against Davis in the governor’s race was his vote against the Obama administration’s health care reform legislation.

Was Davis a turncoat on the very principles and people who gave him his office and his platform? Well, yeah, sorta.

Then again, was it the Alabama Democrat whose “no” vote caused the liberals’ Holy Grail to crash and burn?

No, the bill passed.

Not uncommon in the political world, Davis was like the thief when asked to explain his life of crime: “I saw my opportunities and I took ‘em.”

In this case, Obama and the Washington Democratic leadership did not need Davis’ vote so he was free to cast it in any way that did him the most good politically. He saw his opportunity and he took it.

The opportunity that he saw and took was one to spotlight him as a fiscally responsible and independent-minded political centrist. Is he that? Who knows? Likely, in the fullness of time, could be a year or 20 years, we will know the answer. But for right now Davis can advance that appearance.

Davis’ vote against health care reform, meaningless in Washington, would have meaning in Alabama for Davis’ detractors and supporters of Ron Sparks, his opponent in the Democratic primary. And they are pummeling Davis for his betrayal, cowardice, political expediency etc. etc. etc. This, too, for the Davis strategists, is not unexpected or even unwanted. As Davis takes the tongue-lashings and pencil-whippings, he hopes voters vaguely drawn to the GOP’s Bradley Byrne or Robert Bentley will notice Artur Davis and think, "Was I making unfair assumptions about him?"

Ditto for his refusal to meet with the New South Coalition and the Alabama Democratic Conference to beseech them for their blessing. To Davis, not having their blessing has more value than having it. Or at least that is what he is counting on.

It all boils down to this: Davis would rather beat Sparks 54-46 in the Democratic primary and have a shot at defeating the GOP nominee in November than trounce Sparks 61-39 in June and lose to the Republican 57-43 in November.

Which brings us to …. Sam Jones? The Mobile mayor, with much ceremony at the Battle House here several months ago, endorsed Davis’ candidacy, bestowing all manner of verbal bouquets on Davis. Davis had been a valuable ally in Mobile’s futile campaign to win the $40 billion U.S. military refueling tanker contract for Brookley Field, EADS and Northrop Grumman. Then again, one wonders where Davis would have been on the issue had Obama, the Democratic leadership in Washington and union muscle needed his vote for Boeing.

In any event, Jones early on, unlike the ADC’s Joe Reed and New South’s Hank Sanders who held back, hopped on the Artur Davis bandwagon.

Does he regret it? Maybe. Probably not. Jones is a political veteran who understands as well as any of them that politics can be like a baseball doubleheader: in the first game, the campaign, you might pitch your knuckleballer and in the second game, governing, you might throw the fastballer. It’s a single-elimination tournament. You’ve got to win the first game, get elected, to play the second.

“I endorsed Artur and I think when you endorse somebody you have given your word and that’s it as far as I’m concerned,” said Jones who, for the record, favored the health care reform package and also supports the role of the ADC and New South in the state’s political process.

“I certainly don’t agree with his position on (snubbing of) New South and ADC,” Jones said. “They are very viable organizations in this state and serve a very viable purpose. I don’t quite understand his position with them, but I guess he has the right to run his campaign the way he sees fit. In my judgment it is a political error. But he is running his own campaign and I don’t have any say in that. I would think anyone in the state of Alabama would understand how vital these organizations have been for voter registration, voter education and voter turnout.”

Despite those disagreements and any unspoken misgivings, Jones remains publicly in Davis’ camp.

“Let me put it this way,” said Jones. “I’m going to vote for Artur. As I look at it, in the political arena, once you give your word, that’s it.” 

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