Artur Davis Faces Off Against Ron Sparks In Alabama Democratic Primary

06/01/2010 09:55 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A congressman seeking to become Alabama's first black governor lost Tuesday to a white Democratic primary opponent who had garnered support from the state's four major black political groups.

Primaries were also held in Mississippi and New Mexico, where Susana Martinez, a prosecutor from southern New Mexico, won the GOP nomination for governor and will face Democrat Diane Denish in a general election race deciding who becomes New Mexico's first woman governor.

With 58 percent of the precincts reporting, Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks won the Democratic primary for Alabama governor with 65 percent of the vote to U.S. Rep. Artur Davis's 35 percent.

The state's traditional civil rights organizations backed Sparks after Davis voted against Obama's federal health care overhaul. But Davis, a Harvard lawyer who led President Barack Obama's campaign here in 2008, had endorsements from Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights pioneer from Alabama, and Mobile's first black mayor, Sam Jones.

Voter Ben Ray picked Sparks, who has taken positions popular with Democrats, calling for an expansion of gambling, including a lottery, and supporting the federal health care plan.

"I just like his position on the education lottery," Ray said. "I think we need that here.

The chairman of the black Alabama Democratic Conference, Joe Reed, said Davis was hurt by refusing to seek the endorsements of African-American groups and by voting against the federal health care plan.

Sparks said he went after every vote, and his call for an education lottery proved popular with primary voters. Davis conceded in Birmingham, where he said he would support Sparks in the general election.

Seven GOP candidates for governor were competing in their party's primary Tuesday, and the top vote-getters were expected to go to a runoff on July 13.

The health care overhaul was also an issue in Alabama's other big race, where GOP voters in the 5th Congressional district were deciding the fate of U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith, a former Democrat who switched to the Republican Party in December.

Griffith, a first-term congressman, lagged in early returns behind Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks, who had the backing of local GOP leaders still bitter over losing to Griffith in 2008, when he was still a Democrat.

The north Alabama district traditionally has been Democratic, but has leaned Republican in recent years. Four Democrats were competing for their party's nomination for the seat.

Meanwhile, four-term Alabama Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby easily beat his primary challenger, tea party activist N.C. "Clint" Moser.

Shelby was drawing more than 80 percent of the votes in the unofficial count Tuesday evening. Shelby, 76, is favored to beat Democratic nominee Bill Barnes, a Birmingham lawyer.

Turnout across Alabama was light to moderate.

In New Mexico, the state's governor's race will be the third woman against woman gubernatorial general election matchup in U.S. history.

Martinez, the Dona Ana County district attorney, beat her four GOP opponents with 51 percent of the vote in unofficial returns and nearly half of precincts reporting. Former state GOP chairman Allen Weh had 29 percent.

The primary produced a political first for New Mexico because neither Democrats nor Republicans had ever selected a woman as their gubernatorial nominee. Denish didn't have a primary opponent.

The Republicans are hoping to win the governorship after eight years of Democratic control under Gov. Bill Richardson, who is term-limited and cannot seek re-election. Denish was Richardson's running mate in 2002 and 2006.

In Mississippi, no incumbents faced primary challenges.

Alan Nunnelee won the Republican nomination for a north Mississippi congressional seat. Unofficial results from the three-person GOP primary in the 1st District showed Nunnelee, a state senator from Tupelo, defeated former Eupora Mayor Henry Ross and Fox News analyst Angela McGlowan of Oxford.


Associated Press Writer John Zenor contributed to this report.