There's no other way to describe what Ron Sparks did to Artur Davis. Tuesday's result proves that running away from the president and his health care bill DOES NOT get Democrats elected, even in red states like Alabama. Surprisingly, neither does pandering or negative campaigning. The proof of this paragraph is in the following video:
Much more after the jump!
The video was shot at one of those events forming the political microgeography of Alabama: a mostly, but not entirely, black audience in the northwestern corner of the state. Yet as the campaign progressed, Davis distanced himself from civil rights and African American organizations; he took the black vote in particular for granted. Can we bury that stupid right-wing meme about blacks only voting for black candidates?
Davis made a misguided, Beltway-inspired attempt to increase his appeal to the teabagger demographic. Unions and civil society groups responded by giving their endorsements to his white opponent, which proved decisive.
Taze Shepard -- the man who killed with that line about being "a Democrat next year" -- was a fine speaker, but failed to get endorsements either. Those went to Steve Raby; Shepard's late negative-ad campaign failed to make a dent, and in fact hurt him. Raby will now face Mo Brooks, who beat Parker Griffith in a walk as well. By showing up for every tea party event and gun show in the district since January, Brooks proved a better campaigner than his tea party rival, Les Phillip. The latter ran an anti-Obama ad (as did Parker Griffith), but got nowhere.
Tim James spent more money than anyone else in the Republican governor's race, mostly on pandering advertisements. Yet he only managed to move from a distant third to a third-but-nearly-second. Even Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore's attack ad couldn't unseat frontrunner Bradley Byrne; he won a strong plurality of Alabama's Republican voters while Moore came in fourth. Dale Peterson may have become a viral video star by waving a Winchester rifle with his finger on the trigger, but it didn't translate into victory at the polls: he came in third in his primary race.
Indeed, Phillip had no money or endorsements because of Parker Griffith's party switch. James is best known as the son of the governor who made Alabama miss George Wallace. And until his epic jump-cut ad, no one had ever heard of Dale Peterson. What these candidates had in common was desperation; Democrat Taze Shepard was also desperate. The voters saw right through them.
Davis ran away from his base. He allowed Sparks to be the one defending the health care bill. He modeled his campaign organization on Obama's (even adopting similar campaign imagery), but sought no presidential endorsement. Meanwhile, he was losing the grassroots organizations that still dominate Alabama's Democratic Party.
The takeaway for Democrats still facing primaries around the country? Despite all the tea party noise, even a red state Democrat can't win if they ignore their base or run towards an imaginary center. You must still shake the most hands, cultivate endorsements, and energize your party to choose you over the other person. You don't get there by pushing the Democrats or their principles away.