Primary Unkind To Two Alabama Congressmen

Primary Unkind To Two Alabama Congressmen

By Mike Memoli & Kyle Trygstad - June 2, 2010

Two members of Congress in Alabama saw their 2010 campaigns cut short Tuesday: Parker Griffith, after switching parties in December, lost the 5th district Republican primary; and Artur Davis's gubernatorial bid ended in the Democratic primary, well before many expected.

The two members headlined a primary election day in three states -- Alabama, Mississippi and New Mexico -- and continued this year's run of intriguing political storylines.

HOUSE PRIMARIES: Griffith's shocking move to the GOP made his seat even more vulnerable than it was running as a Democrat in the South in a year Republicans feel the wind at their backs. On top of facing a competitive general election -- something he'd have no matter which party he was in -- Griffith's late entry to the Republican primary gave him yet another hurdle to overcome. Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks won 51 percent to Griffith's 33 percent.

The freshman also was running against history, as the 5th district has never elected a Republican to the House, despite voting solidly Republican at the presidential level. Former Senate aide Steve Raby will attempt to keep that streak alive when he faces Brooks in the general election.

Elsewhere, the National Republican Congressional Committee got its guy in Mississippi's 1st district, as state Sen. Alan Nunnelee squeaked out a primary victory with 52 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff against second-place finisher Henry Ross. Former FOX commentator, Angela McGlowan, who received an endorsement from Sarah Palin, finished third with 16 percent.

Republicans like their chances in this GOP-leaning district, which voted Democrat Travis Childers into office in a May 2008 special election to fill the remainder of Republican Roger Wicker's term. Six months later, Childers was elected to a full term with 54 percent.

The NRCC wasn't so lucky in Alabama's 2nd district, where the highly touted Martha Roby failed to avoid a runoff against tea party-backed Rick Barber, taking 49 percent to Barber's 29 percent. They'll face off again July 13 for the right to take on freshman Democrat Bobby Bright, who won in 2008 by less than 2,000 votes.

Also in play was Alabama's 7th district, which Davis gave up to run for governor. The solidly Democratic district won't know its Democratic nominee for another several weeks, as attorney Terri Sewell and Jefferson County Commissioner Shelia Smoot head for a runoff.

GUBERNATORIAL PRIMARIES: It might be a stretch to say that Artur Davis' loss in the Alabama gubernatorial primary was an upset; what little public polling there was did show him out front. But the blowout win by Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks was about as shocking a result as there was Tuesday night.

There will be several explanations after the fact -- among them the fact that Davis was a member of Congress in an anti-Washington year, or his vote against health care reform. Many will point to race as well, with something of a reverse Bradley effect taking place in a state where the battle for civil rights was at times bloody. But Sparks also ran an aggressive campaign and outraised Davis four-to-one in the final filing period.

Despite the easy post-mortems, though, the result was seemingly unexpected even in the Davis camp. They issued a confident expectations-setting memo earlier Tuesday, saying that undecided voters were "moving decidedly toward Artur Davis in the closing days," and that the Congressman was "poised for victory this evening as our organization executes an exhaustive statewide effort to drive our supporters to the polls."

The winner of the Republican race won't be known for some time. Three candidates were separated by just 3 points, ensuring that a July runoff will be necessary. Former state Sen. Bradley Byrne had a slight lead, while state Rep. Robert Bentley and Tim James, son of former Gov. Fob James, were neck-and-neck for the next runoff spot. Former state Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore was a more distant fourth, meaning his second attempt at the governorship will likely come up short again.

The result was far clearer in New Mexico. While Davis' attempt at history in Alabama came up short, Susana Martinez became the first Latina woman ever nominated by a major party for governor. She won New Mexico's Republican primary rather easily, besting former state GOP chair Allen Weh. Martinez was endorsed in the closing weeks by Sarah Palin.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish was uncontested in the Democratic primary. Whoever wins will become the state's first woman governor, replacing term-limited Bill Richardson.

Mike Memoli & Kyle Trygstad

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