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Jews oust hilliard { June 26 2002 }

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Davis Ousts Rep. Hilliard In Alabama Runoff
Mideast Was Issue In Democratic Race

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 26, 2002; Page A07

Rep. Earl F. Hilliard, a five-term incumbent, lost to well-funded lawyer Artur Davis in a Democratic primary runoff yesterday in Alabama. Davis is heavily favored in November because he faces token opposition from a Libertarian candidate.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Davis had 52,357 votes, or 56 percent, to Hilliard's 41,049 votes, or 44 percent.

"My opponent had a massive amount of money," Hilliard told reporters. "I don't know what that means for the future for other persons who are similarly situated."

In an interview last night, Davis said Hilliard's decision to bring the Rev. Al Sharpton to the district over the weekend damaged the incumbent's campaign. "He tried to racialize the contest and inject religion in the contest, and there was a backlash against that in the final days," Davis said, adding that he hoped to focus on health care and education once in office.

The race between Hilliard, 60, and Davis, 34, became a referendum on Middle East politics. Davis amassed funds from Jewish donors angry over Hilliard's support for Arab nations, while Arab American groups flocked to the incumbent.

But the contest also highlighted an emerging trend in congressional politics, in which the shrinking number of competitive seats has made primaries much more important. With most House districts now either safely Democratic or safely Republican, the outcome of intra-party contests is helping to shape the ideological makeup of the House.

Bernadette Budde, senior vice president of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee, said her group has been warning its allies for months they cannot afford to stay neutral until the general election.

"If you've missed the primaries, you've missed the show," said Budde, whose group sent Davis a $1,000 check this month because he supports giving President Bush greater flexibility in negotiating trade deals overseas.

Hilliard is the fifth House incumbent to lose so far this year.

Davis, who ran against Hilliard once before, posed a stark contrast with his more liberal rival, who had courted controversy throughout his congressional career. Hilliard traveled to Libya in 1997 over the State Department's objections, and he was one of a handful of Democrats to oppose campaign finance reform.

In most contests, incumbents have an overwhelming financial advantage. But in this case Davis outraised the incumbent, according to the most recent federal election reports, collecting $794,000 to Hilliard's $705,000.

Davis's fundraising success helped him narrow Hilliard's electoral advantage. While Hilliard beat Davis by 24 percentage points in 2000, he edged him out by just 3 points in the state's June 4 primary. Davis won new supporters by airing a series of television ads criticizing Hilliard's legislative and ethical record. The House ethics committee rebuked Hilliard last year for misusing campaign funds but declined to take formal action.

Congressional Black Caucus members rushed to Hilliard's aid, accusing House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and other party leaders of failing to adequately protect Hilliard and another embattled African American Democrat, Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney. Gephardt promptly sent Hilliard $10,000 from his leadership political action committee and provided an additional $20,000 to support the Black Caucus's get-out-the-vote efforts in the district. House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gave the campaign $17,000 from her leadership PAC and personal campaign funds.

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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