Cross posted from Facebook, courtesy of Mo Elleithee, this is great stuff (break out the popcorn!). 🙂
I've followed his political transformation with some amusement, as it was just a few months ago that he called me out of the blue to pick my brain on a run for office in his new home of Virginia — as a Democrat!
By way of background — Artur Davis was an early and vocal supporter of President Obama's in 2008. Thanks to his high national profile at the time, a lot of people considered him a rising star in the party. Then he ran for Governor of Alabama in 2010. He lost the primary — big. It wasn't even close. Davis quickly left the state he had served (with some unkind words as he walked out the door), relocating to Northern Virginia.
I didn't know Davis when he called, except by reputation. He said to me that he knew I was experienced in Virginia Democratic politics, and that he “still had the political bug,” so wanted to explore running for office in his new state. I asked him what office he was thinking about. He didn't know, but said he was open to a congressional run, or even the state legislature. I asked him whenhe was thinking about running. He said he didn't have a timeframe in mind — that he just wanted to begin thinking about it.
So, we had an honest conversation over the phone. I told him that if he wanted to do this, his biggest obstacle would be that he didn't have any real connection to Virginia. I told him that was not an insurmountable obstacle, but that he would need to figure out what he wanted to do and then get involved at the local level. I suggested that local activists would likely be skeptical of someone who had served in another state just parachuting in and trying to win a seat, without developing the community and grassroots relationships that are so important in local politics.
I didn't sugarcoat the challenge that I thought he would face. He listened quietly, and at the end said he would like to sit down and continue the conversation in person sometime after the holidays. I told him I'd be happy to talk as he considered this.
I never heard from him again.
A few months later, he announced he was switching to the Republican Party and that he was considering a run for Congress in Northern Virginia in 2014.
I recounted this story to a couple of reporters yesterday. One of them (Mary Orndorff of theBirmingham News) asked Davis about it. He apparently had a different memory of our conversation.
A Virginia-based Democratic consultant said Thursday that Davis as recently as December talked about running for office in Northern Virginia as a Democrat, where Davis has lived since late 2010. Mo Elleithee, a partner at Hilltop Public Solutions, said he told Davis it would be difficult because he was a newcomer to the area and had not yet spent time getting to know the people and the politics of the region.
“Without having been involved in local politics, to expect he could just parachute in and win an election, would be difficult,” Elleithee said Thursday.
Davis, in an email, disputed the time of his phone conversation with Elleithee, saying it was summer or fall of last year. “I asked him about the ideological direction of the Virginia Democratic Party and he confirmed my sense that it was as left-leaning and interest group driven as I suspected. We never followed up and never met,” Davis said.
Now, my memory is that the conversation was just prior to the holidays. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he's right that we spoke in late fall. That's less important.
What's more important, and where I believe his memory is incorrect, is in his characterization of our conversation.
At no point did he ask me, or did we discuss “the ideological direction of the Virginia Democratic Party.” If he had, I would have told him what I believe — that after working for 12 years in Virginia politics, I've found that successful Democrats in Virginia are fiscally responsible, pro-business, pro-results oriented pragmatists in the mold of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and that those were traits shared by a majority of the Virginia electorate.
Even more concerning to me is his characterization that I “confirmed” his “sense that it was as left-leaning and interest group driven as [he] suspected.”
Of course I never said that. What I did say is that party primaries in Virginia were very much a grassroots-driven affair. That without having any connection to the community, he was coming in at a distinct disadvantage, and that he would have to find a way to overcome that should he decide to run.
I don't know if our conversation had anything to do with his conversion. I don't presume to believe I was the only person he spoke with, but I suspect that any Virginia Democratic operative worth his or his salt would have raised the same red flag. So perhaps he decided that it would be too much work to get past this obstacle in Democratic circles and that he would have an easier time becoming a star in the Republican Pary. Or maybe he was still bitter from his crushing defeat in the Democratic primary for Governor of Alabama. Or maybe both.
I don't know.
What I do know is that Davis is incorrect in his characterization of our conversation. He believes that I confirmed that the Virginia Democratic Party was “interest group-driven,” when in reality I told him that it was grassroots-driven.
Maybe Davis simply misremembered our conversation. If so, then I hope this post clears things up for him.
If not, then Artur Davis believes that grassroots activists are a special interest group to be rejected.
And if that's the case, then I think he was right in his sense that he and the Democratic Party are probably no longer a good fit for one another.