People Try to Put Us D-D-D-D-Down

While everybody else was making #freebooker jokes, Rosie Gray had the bright idea of calling up former Rep. Artur Davis to see what he thought of his fellow fortysomething black Democratic star going (very temporarily rogue). An opportunity to put more turf between himself and Barack Obama? He’ll take it.

He’s contributed to both Democratic and Republican politicians recently, and occupies a perch at Harvard’s Institute of Politics. “I’m not involved in supporting the Obama campaign,” he told BuzzFeed, adding that he isn’t supporting Romney either.

Two things.

1) Why would the Obama campaign want to use Davis? There’s no upside. You’ve got a once-promising politician who endorsed Obama early who now completely contradicts the campaign on voter ID. You don’t think some American Crossroads intern with Final Cut Pro could do something with that?

2) Gray points out that Davis, Booker, and Deval Patrick were the stars of Gwen Ifill’s 2009 book about new black politics, The Breakthrough. But Davis is done with politics. Booker is a credible candidate for governor of New Jersey, a good launchpad for a presidential run. Patrick is well ensconced as governor of Massachusets. Both Davis and Harold Ford tried to win in Southern states where Barack Obama got less than 30 percent of the white vote. Patrick won by capturing white liberals in a Democratic primary, then winning a plurality of white voters in a state with little remaining anti-black stigma.

Why aren’t there more Patricks? A problem that Ford and Davis never escaped: Most black voters are packed into Voting Rights Act-approved majority-minority districts, where they don’t have to practice the entrepreneurial politics of politicians in swing districts. When they ran statewide, Ford and Davis had to resort to phony-looking swings to the right. Both men essentially tried to charm skeptics into submission. Winning, said Davis to Iffil, was “going to require me going into communities that have not typically had black politicians on the ballot. It’s going to require me going into places all around the state and saying, ‘Look, I’m not that different from you.’” He tried and failed. Black politicians outside the South have an easier time of it.