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The Artur Davis Lesson: Act Like A Democrat In A Democratic Primary

First Posted: 06/04/10 02:06 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 05:40 PM ET

Artur Davis

The surprisingly lopsided loss of Rep. Artur Davis in the Democratic primary for governor of Alabama on Tuesday has been scrutinized for broader political lessons.

How could Davis, once considered the fastest rising star among a young class of African-American pols, fall so fast and so unexpectedly?

What implications would the loss have on the notion of post-racial politics on which Davis ran?

Did the defeat say anything about President Obama, who had close ties to Davis but did little to help with his campaign?

All of the questions are worthy of asking. And depending on the source, different answers abound. But the essential takeaway from the race -- at least for higher-ups in the party -- is remarkably straightforward: If you want to win a Democratic primary you have to act like a Democrat.

"The shocking story is that Democratic voters in Democratic primaries vote for the Democrats," said longtime pollster Celinda Lake, tongue-in-cheek. "To be frank, that's what is going on here. Democrats are voting for Democrats and you can't become a Democrat-lite and hope to win."

It's that simple. Davis was tarred by his willingness to buck the party on health care reform, which he felt so compelled to oppose that he left the campaign trail to cast a "no" vote. On Friday, Politico's Ben Smith posted an e-mail from a supporter of State Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks -- the man who bested Davis in Tuesday's primary -- talking about how the grassroots rallied behind the candidate who was actually committed to a key element of the Democratic agenda.

Davis essentially ditched the traditional scriptures of Alabama electoral politics, refusing to seek the endorsements of local African American groups out of the -- perhaps noble, but certainly damaging -- belief that the days of power-brokering were over.

"Health care was definitely a factor," said one national Democratic source. "But he also didn't get along with institutional African American leadership in the state, which is a nice way of putting it. He thought he could win without the Democratic base and the establishment African American in the state."

At a more superficial, but still noteworthy, level was the extent to which he tried to create distance between himself and the president. Earlier in the campaign, aides to Obama spoke glowingly and excitedly about Davis' chances -- hoping, in a self-interested way, that he could localize the type of campaign Obama had run nationally. But over the course of the year, Davis shied away from the Obama analogy. It was not coincidental that the president didn't campaign for the congressman (despite being friends), let alone cut a radio ad or send an e-mail solicitation on his behalf

All of which led White House advisers and allies to the conclusion that Davis' major misstep may have been that he thought he could outrun Obama's shadow.

"He blew it by running away from [the President]," said a senior Democrat who consulted, from afar on the Davis election effort. "The black community turned on him."

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