Wednesday, June 02, 2010

What's next for Artur Davis?

Getting thrashed almost 2-to-1 isn't exactly how most politicians like to kick off the summer. Unfortunately for U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, that's exactly what happened to him Tuesday in Alabama's Democratic gubernatorial primary.

If you're looking for explanations of how Davis went, in short order, from presumptive nominee to distant second, I offered a couple of major reasons here. (You also can find great accounts at Doc's Political Parlor and King Cockfight, the state's most authoritative and most hilariously incisive political blogs, respectively.) But if you're looking for admittedly uninformed guesswork as to the next steps for Davis, you're in the right place. There are no easy answers, but let's examine a few possibilities.

If at first you don't succeed: Run, run again. Davis could come back with another gubernatorial campaign in 2014 if Ron Sparks falls short this fall. But that'd be a non-starter if Davis doesn't work hard to rebuild support among black voters who felt scorned by his shocking "no" vote on health care reform and his refusal to pursue the black establishment's backing. He'd also have to settle on a simple, memorable campaign theme and unleash more of the Davis we saw during his concession speech Tuesday night.

Mr. Davis goes (back) to Washington: It'd be easy to assume Davis could just wait a couple of years and return to his old congressional seat in 2012. But he no longer will have the advantages of incumbency at that point, and he struggled Tuesday in many key areas of his district. If you're into dreaming big, Davis could challenge for Jeff Sessions' seat in 2014 or hope Richard Shelby retires before 2016. Remember, though: As conservative as the Alabama electorate has become in state races recently, it's even more conservative when it comes to national offices. Barring an unforeseen sea change, it'll be a generation or two before a Democrat -- any Democrat -- can harbor serious hopes of winning a U.S. Senate race in Alabama.

By appointment only: Davis, as you may have heard, was a law school classmate of a guy named Barack Obama, who, as you may have heard, is the leader of the free world. That would seem to help Davis' case to be appointed to an open executive-branch job or federal judgeship. One caveat is that Obama may be a little less open to this possibility after that "no" vote on health care reform. Another is that Davis likely would have to forsake any future political ambitions were he to get a lifetime judicial appointment. A shorter-term executive position would leave the door open, but it also might drop Davis off the Alabama political radar entirely. Anything short of a full-fledged Cabinet position or an in-state U.S. attorney post probably wouldn't be worth it if Davis hopes to run for office again.

Take what you can get: We elect more than just the governor in Alabama, and Davis is fully qualified for many of those jobs, too. A run for a lower state office -- lieutenant governor or attorney general would seem likeliest -- could present fewer entry barriers for Davis and would garner valuable state-level experience to which he could point in a future gubernatorial campaign. The previously mentioned concern about rebuilding black support still applies. So does the still unanswered question of whether the full Alabama electorate is ready to elect a black man to one of the state's highest offices.

Take it easy: Davis first ran for Congress in 2000, and he first won in 2002. After almost a decade in the public eye, he might just choose to retreat into private life for a while and spend some more time with his family. Absolutely no one could blame him for that. But for the state's sake, I hope he finds his way back into public life sooner or later. Artur Davis is an intelligent and relatively young man who still has a lot to offer Alabama. One election setback hasn't changed that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Birmingham elects a mayor in 2011. I don't think Artur would be interested in the job though since he'd view it as a step down. Also, Birmingham's numerous problems (and lack of clear solutions)could hurt his political record, keeping him from successfully running for higher office in the future.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

I hadn't thought of Birmingham mayor as a possibility, but I think your analysis is spot-on regarding that.

Now that Davis has announced that he won't run for office again and doesn't want a federal appointment, it'll be interesting to see what's next for him. I'm of the "never say never in politics" school.

The pain of the loss is fresh right now, but Davis is young enough that he could take several years or even a decade off and still have plenty of time for a political comeback if he changes his mind one day.

7:20 PM  

Nice description

3:23 PM  

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