Davis thumps Turner

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 2, 2004

The comparisons couldn’t be quantified on Tuesday night. Even Artur Davis, normally as sharp spoken as anyone, had a hard time grasping his almost humorous win over challenger Albert Turner Jr.

Two years ago, on his second attempt to unseat incumbent Earl Hilliard, Davis wiggled his way into a run-off. This time, two years later, Davis ran away with the most lopsided election in the state.

The numbers, by 10 p.m., didn’t mean much. In fact, they never really deserved a second look after the first few boxes reported. With 289 of 450 precincts reporting, Davis had accumulated 88 percent of the votes.

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Those numbers, most likely, would waver the remainder of the evening, but of the 39,600 votes already counted, Davis had won nearly 35,000 of them.

“No, I guess I did not expect this,” Davis said from the floor of the Harbert Center, minutes after giving his victory speech to supporters gathered in Birmingham. “But I do admit this is very satisfying.”

Ever since defeating Hilliard two years ago, Davis has become a consistent presence for constituents in this 7th District of the U.S. House of Representatives. And while that district spans everywhere from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa to Montgomery, Davis never neglected the areas where the vote count was the least — the rural Black Belt area.

“That is the most important thing to me,” Davis said. “We’ve worked so hard to build bridges between all the people of this district. And the numbers tonight show that we’ve done just that.”

If Davis boasted of his ability to “build bridges” during his victory speech, voters and political leaders really couldn’t blame him.

During the infamous campaign of two years ago, when Davis ousted Hilliard from office, powerful state political organizations lined up in the corner opposite of the young Birmingham attorney. Groups like the Alabama New South Coalition and the Alabama Democratic Conference dumped money and endorsements into Hilliard’s dwindling pot. Those groups fought as hard as any other to defeat Davis.

Then, just months into Davis’ first term as a U.S. Congressman, political insiders quickly hinted that another strong, established New South or ADC candidate would line up to take another shot at the newcomer.

Names like Charles Steele and Hank Sanders floated rapidly. But as Davis continued his work in Washington, D.C., and as proposed legislation became passed legislation, those challengers quickly faded back into state office.

By the time New South and ADC chose to issue their endorsements for this election, they could either select Davis — of whom they fought vehemently — or Turner, whose father helped form the backbone of those political organizations.

New South and ADC both chose Davis, and any political steam Turner hoped to muster before the Tuesday primary had disappeared.

Afterwards, Turner chalked the endorsements off as meaning little. He told one media outlet that Davis, in his race against Hilliard, didn’t have the endorsements of New South or ADC. In that light, Turner suggested he still could win the race.

But early in the evening Tuesday — and in reality, much earlier than that — Davis emerged for his ability to build bridges and win supporters by the handful.

“I didn’t go up against a candidate who just sat back,” Davis said. “He campaigned hard in the district, and he put up a challenge. In that sense, we had a formidable opponent, and the voters selected the person they wanted to represent them.”

Voters also suggested that a first-term congressman who took time to be part of the district deserved a second go at the job.