Ousted rep hilliard
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Ala. congressman ousted in primary
Mideast conflict played big role in fund-raising
June 25 — Five-term Rep. Earl Hilliard was ousted in a Democratic runoff Tuesday after a nasty campaign against a younger, well-funded challenger who swamped the impoverished Alabama district with commercials questioning the incumbent’s stance on the Middle East.
THE ASTONISHING victory by Harvard-educated lawyer Artur Davis was tantamount to election because there is no Republican nominee.
Hilliard, who in 1992 became the first black member of Alabama’s congressional delegation since Reconstruction, becomes the fifth incumbent congressman to lose at the polls this year.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Davis had 52,357 votes, or 56 percent, and Hilliard had 41,049 votes, or 44 percent.
Hilliard blamed his first electoral loss on Davis’ bigger war chest, funded in large part by out-of-state, pro-Israel donors.
“My opponent had a massive amount of money,” Hilliard said. “I don’t know what that means for the future for other persons who are similarly situated.”
Davis said voters were swayed by his focus on economic development, health care and education. “The breadth of this victory is something that humbles me,” he told cheering supporters.
Besides the Hilliard race, voters chose nominees in four other congressional races in South Carolina, Utah and Alabama. South Carolina Republicans also picked a wealthy former congressman to take on freshman Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges this fall.
Hilliard, 60, was forced into the first runoff of his career after failing to win a majority in the primary earlier this month.
Davis, a 34-year-old former federal prosecutor, aired a series of stinging TV ads in which he criticized Hilliard’s repeated ethics scrapes and accused him of being linked to terrorism.
Hilliard has said he supports creation of a Palestinian state and recently opposed a resolution supporting Israel’s self-proclaimed war against terrorism. The stance won him support from Arab groups while his opponent had the backing of Jews and pro-Israel groups. Both men are black.
Davis raised more money than Hilliard, much of it from Jews in New York. Hilliard, who visited Libya in 1997, was backed by Arab donors and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
An anti-Semitic smear sheet criticizing Davis’ ties to the Jewish community surfaced during the campaign. Hilliard denied any involvement, suggesting that Davis wrote the leaflet to gain more sympathy with Jewish contributors.
While Mideast politics lured out-of-state money to the race, more typical issues dominated in the far-flung, chronically poor 7th District.
Hilliard portrayed Davis as a Republican in disguise, a serious charge in the heavily Democratic district, which is 62 percent black. One Hilliard TV commercial depicted Davis supporters as white, cigar-smoking fat cats.
Davis accused Hilliard of doing little to help his district while lining his own pockets in Washington. The challenger appeared to benefit from redistricting, which placed more white voters in the district: He carried eight of the district’s 12 counties.
Hilliard joins a growing list of incumbent congressman ousted at the polls this year. The others were Democrats Gary Condit of California, Frank Mascara of Pennsylvania and Tom Sawyer of Ohio, and GOP Rep. Brian Kerns of Indiana, who — like Mascara — lost in a race between incumbents forced by redistricting.
In South Carolina, wealthy former Rep. Mark Sanford easily won the GOP gubernatorial nomination to challenge Hodges. With all precincts reporting, Sanford had 181,984 votes, or 60 percent, and Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler had 121,535, or 40 percent.
Some had cast the Sanford-Peeler battle as a rematch between President Bush and presidential hopeful John McCain: Peeler worked for Bush two years ago and Sanford, a millionaire real estate developer, drew support from the Arizona senator.
“We will very quickly circle the wagons as Republicans because this campaign is about change, and to make change we’re going to need a new governor of South Carolina,” Sanford told cheering supporters at a barbecue restaurant.
Also in South Carolina, Gresham Barrett beat fellow state Rep. Jim Klauber in the Republican race to succeed GOP Rep. Lindsey Graham, who is running for the seat of retiring 99-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond.
In Alabama, GOP Rep. Sonny Callahan’s chief of staff, Jo Bonner, won the Republican nomination to succeed his boss, who is retiring after nine terms. He will face Judy McCain-Belk, who won the Democratic nomination in a district that has had a Republican congressman for four decades. Alabama Democrats also chose State Treasurer Susan Parker to challenge freshman GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions this fall.
In Utah, voters decided two runoffs in the 1st District, where Republican Rep. Jim Hansen is retiring after 22 years. Former House Speaker Rob Bishop easily beat businessman Kevin Garn — a distant relative of former Sen. Jake Garn. In the Democratic race, advertising executive Dave Thomas beat education consultant Donald Dunn, 52 percent to 48 percent.
In Utah’s 2nd District, state lawmaker John Swallow beat venture capitalist Tim Bridgewater 52 percent to 48 percent for the GOP nomination. Swallow faces Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson in November.
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