Artur Davis, Cont.

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I got the following note from someone in Alabama:

[Davis] said he wanted a colorblind vote, and methinks he got it.

Indeed. As Adam Serwer notes, there's this sense that black voters routinely flock to black candidates without caring much about their issues: 

We've seen this myth debunked time and time again, most notably with Nikki Tinker's anti-Semitic campaign against Steve Cohen in Tennessee's Ninth District. Last night, Rep. Artur Davis got trounced by Ron Sparks among Alabama's mostly black Democratic primary voters. Davis had made a big show out of tacking to the right in an effort to make himself appealing to white voters in the primary election, most notably by voting against the Affordable Care Act. He also refused to start his campaign by ingratiating himself to Alabama's civil-rights establishment, much of which ended up backing the more progressive Sparks. 

So there are a number of factors that lead to Davis' defeat -- his tacking right, thumbing his nose at the traditional black power brokers in the state -- but fundamentally the issue is that a significant number of black voters chose to back a more progressive white candidate who supported policies that appeal to black voters, rather than a more conservative black candidate simply because he was black.

It's worth noting that the "racist black voter" meme works two ways--when blacks didn't support Obama early on, they were practicing an insidious intra-racism in which the labeled Obama "not black enough." When blacks swung his way in major numbers, they were blank-mindedly supporting him because, lo and behold, he was black, That black folks, a group who were summarily deprived of voting rights for much of their time in this country, might actually vote on issues is inconceivable. Or here's a more pedestrian notion--human beings want a champion who think can win.

Yesterday in comments, Aghast1 looked at the numbers and deduced that Davis hadn't simply lost because of a depressed turnout in majority black counties, he'd actually lost those counties completely. Here's Ed Kilgore:

[F]or some who don't look too closely at the numbers, Davis joins the list along with Georgia's Andrew Young, North Carolina's Harvey Gantt and Tennessee's Harold Ford, of southern black candidates who couldn't get enough white votes to win. 

Without exit polling, it's impossible to accurately break down racial patterns in yesterday's vote. But even a cursory look at the numbers shows that while Sparks did indeed wax Davis among white Democrats, he did exceptionally well among black Democrats as well. Moreover, Davis wasn't hurt by some dropoff in black turnout attributable to his refusal to pursue African-American endorsements or focus on that community and its issue priorities; indeed, in most parts of the state, black turnout seems to have held up relatively well as compared to the last statewide gubernatorial primary in 2006 (overall, Democratic turnout was down 31% from 2006). Sparks trounced Davis by winning votes, not by exploiting some fluke of racial turnout patterns. 


That Sparks won something approaching half the African-American vote is evident from a look at Davis' own majority-black congressional district, the 7th. In Greene County, which according to 2008 Census data is 78% African-American, Sparks beat Davis by better than two-to-one, with turnout virtually unchanged from 2006. In Wilcox County, 72% black, Sparks won by better than three-to-one. Again, in sharp contrast to the state as a whole, turnout was essentially unchanged from 2006. Most symbolically, in Dallas County, whose county seat is Selma, and which is 68% black, Sparks won 55-45, and yet again, turnout was not at all down from 2006. And in the state's largest county, Jefferson (Birmingham), which is 41% black, Sparks won 58-42, with turnout down a relatively low 14% from 2006.

l don't want to claim that African-Americans aren't susceptible to the same kind of identity politics that you see play out in other communities. Obama's run against Bobby Rush shows that. (Though it shows other things too.) Marion Barry was a superb and gifted politician. But especially toward the end, part of his appeal was giving a middle finger to the District's overlords. 

The point isn't that black voters are never tribal, it's that they are no more tribal than any other group of voters. Indeed, by necessity, they are often less tribal. Everyone remembers Barack Obama sweeping up the black vote against Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary. No one remembers John Kerry doing the same to Al Sharpton in 2004.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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