Artur Davis comes out swinging against his own party's candidate for Ala. governor

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By Krissah Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2010; 3:55 PM

Nearly two months after his bid to become Alabama governor ended in defeat in the Democratic primary, U.S. Rep. Artur Davis is fast earning a different title: sore loser.

In an opinion piece published this week in the Montgomery Advertiser, Davis announced that he would not campaign for Ron Sparks, the state agriculture commissioner who won 62 percent of the vote to Davis's 38 percent. Davis wrote that he wanted to explain why he did not attend a state Democratic Party gathering where the primary's runner-up typically embraces the party's nominee.

"While I congratulate him for running a campaign that ultimately resonated better with Democrats than mine, I am convinced that the party's nominee, Ron Sparks, is no champion of real change," Davis wrote.

(Opinion: Chris Cillizza explains why the primary defeat meant Davis had the "worst week in Washington.")

Davis also said Sparks ran a campaign of smears. "Character matters in the governor's race, too," Davis wrote. "After observing Sparks' campaign operatives at close range for over a year, I observed a pattern of thinly veiled personal smears and a casual approach to spreading falsehoods about lives and voting records."

Sparks's campaign has responded to Davis's op-ed by saying that Sparks won because his "ideas for change were more powerful than my opponent's."

Liberal commentators, having picked up on the column, and are fast turning against Davis. They say Davis, who was once touted as a Democratic Party up and comer, is hardly putting the tough race behind him.

Mark Greenbaum writes on Salon that Davis has showed "an extraordinary display of gracelessness" and that his "words drip with disdain and lingering bitterness, providing a pathetic and potentially final note to a political career that was once noted for its fast ascendance and seemingly limitless potential."

In his home state, the Anniston Star's editorial board wrote: "Alabama Republicans must have loved Davis' harsh words. If that made GOP faithful giddy, they surely enjoyed it even more when Davis skipped the first meeting of the state Democratic Party's executive committee after the election because, he wrote, 'the forces that dominate my party have turned into the same conservative anti-reform elements I went into politics to oppose.' "

In a phone interview Friday, Davis said he expected to be called a sore loser and defended himself against the criticism.

"As I reflected on the campaign and Alabama's needs for the future, I can't in good conscience campaign for someone I think is a very flawed candidate with a very flawed message," Davis said. "The fact that you lose doesn't mean that you're wrong and the fact that you win doesn't mean you're right."

Davis, whose campaign platform was centered on reforming Alabama, said Sparks has not committed to the ethics, constitutional and tax reform that the state needs. He accused his liberal critics of being out of touch with the state, and noted that it is not unheard of for primary opponents to refuse to reconcile in Alabama. In a particularly bitter Republican gubernatorial primary in 1998, the loser also refused to back the winner.

"I don't pay much attention to the national commentary," Davis said. "They know virtually nothing about the players and personalities in Alabama. If you were to ask them to pick Ron Sparks out of a lineup, they couldn't do it. The campaign we just finished was about a lot more than health care."

Davis, who has also called the state's Republican nominee Robert Bentley a strong candidate, said the Democratic Party leadership in Alabama never embraced Barack Obama's presidential candidacy and they raised race as an issue in Davis's campaign. Sparks, who is white, won the backing of several prominent black Democrats in the state.

As for the future, Davis said he plans to move his family to Northern Virginia when his congressional term ends and over the next decade become a "top-flight criminal defense lawyer."

"I spent the last decade trying to become governor," he said.

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