Primary for Dem seeking to be first black Ala. gov

Artur DavisThe congressman seeking to become Alabama’s first black governor faced off Tuesday against a white Democratic primary opponent who has the support of the state’s four major black political groups.

Primaries were also being held in Mississippi and New Mexico, and GOP voters in Alabama’s 5th Congressional District were deciding the fate of U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith, a former Democrat who switched to the Republican Party in December.

In the Democratic primary for Alabama governor, U.S. Rep. Artur?Davis, a Harvard lawyer who led President Barack Obama’s campaign here in 2008, was running against Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. Neither was a clear favorite.

The state’s traditional civil rights organizations backed Sparks after Davis voted against Obama’s federal health care overhaul. But Davis had endorsements from Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights pioneer from Alabama, and Mobile’s first black mayor, Sam Jones.

“I think there’s no strings attached,” said Alice Roe, who voted for him in Montgomery on Tuesday. “I think he’s his own man, I really do.”

But voter Ben Ray picked Sparks, who has taken positions popular with Democrats, calling for an expansion of gambling, including a lottery, and supporting the federal health care plan.

“I just like his position on the education lottery,” Ray said. “I think we need that here.”

If Davis makes it to the general election, his vote against the health care bill could help him appeal to centrists in a state that has picked Republican governors in five of the last six races.

Seven GOP candidates for governor were competing in their party’s primary Tuesday, among them Tim James, the son of a two-term governor who has aired blunt ads against illegal immigrants that set off fierce Internet debate. A runoff will be July 13 if no one gets a majority of the vote.

The health care overhaul was also an issue in Alabama’s other big race. Griffith, a first-term congressman, faced stiff Republican primary opposition from Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks, who had the backing of local GOP leaders still bitter over losing to Griffith in 2008, when he was still a Democrat.

The north Alabama district traditionally has been Democratic, but has leaned Republican in recent years. Four Democrats were competing for their party’s nomination for the seat.

In New Mexico, five Republicans were vying to take on Democrat Diane Denish this fall as she seeks to become the state’s first woman governor. Denish, the lieutenant governor since 2003, is unopposed on the Democratic primary ballot. The Republicans are hoping to win the governorship after eight years of Democratic control under Gov. Bill Richardson, who is term-limited and cannot seek re-election. Denish was Richardson’s running mate in 2002 and 2006.

And in Mississippi, Republican congressional primaries were being held in the 1st, 2nd and 4th districts, and a Democratic primary in the 3rd. No incumbents faced primary challenges.

Associated Press Writer John Zenor contributed to this report.

Source: The Associated Press.