[Weird] Case Study: Urban Congressional Race Hinges on…Israel?

Campaign are always dynamic. Occasionally, the issue of the campaign isn't what you expect from national trends and the candidates' backgrounds. And once, in 2002, the issue was completely confounding. 

This week, the theme of the case study is that sometime, campaigns are just weird. In 2002 the 7th District of Alabama - A Birmingham district that is Alabama's only reliably democratic district - replaced it's ten year Congressman in the Democratic primary.

The issue that caused a the Alabama Democratic party to reject a long term incumbent? A trip to Libya that angered supporters of Israel.

Artur Davis challenged incumbent Earl Hilliard, Sr. in the Democratic primary for the 2nd consecutive time in 2002, having lost in 2000 by 14 points. And then in 2002, a nasty rematch ensued. Via "The Almanac of American Politics:"

In 2002, Davis came back for a rematch, raising $1.5 million. The contest split the local African-American political establishment, with some leaders disapproving of Davis's challenge to another black officeholder. Campaign surrogates for Hilliard questioned whether Davis was "black enough" to represent the district. Referring to Davis's background as a federal prosecutor, Hilliard claimed that, "the only thing [Davis] has done for black people is put them in jail."

Davis made the debate about Israel and Hiliard's trip to Libya when the State Department had prohibited travel to the terrorist state. Hilliard had also voted against a resolution supporting Israel's fight against terrorism, a vote that Davis used. 

Despite visits to the district from Al Sharpton and Congressional Black Caucus members to campaign for Hilliard, Davis won the primary runoff 56%-44%. 

The moral? Do your research and test every potential line of attack with a pollster because you never know what will stick. 

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