Anti-incumbency takes down another congressman

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The political shooting-star otherwise known as anti-incumbency fell on Alabama, taking down a first-term congressman who switched from Democrat to Republican just last December.

The hotly-contested health care overhaul was among the issues working against Rep. Parker Griffith, voted out by Republicans Tuesday in the 5th Congressional District in favor of Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks. With tea party support and the backing of local GOP leaders still bitter about losing to Griffith in 2008, Brooks won Tuesday’s primary with slightly more than 50 percent of the vote in a three-candidate field.

Griffith’s ouster came on a day in which Rep. Artur Davis lost his bid to become Alabama’s first black governor in the state’s Democratic primary and New Mexico’s gubernatorial primary set up a general election to decide who becomes the state’s first female governor.

Griffith’s loss was the latest manifestation of an anti-establishment, anti-Washington, anti-incumbency fervor — a 2010 political phenomenom that has shaken the Democratic establishment and the Obama White House, and has also has caused angst in GOP leadership circles.

A rip tide of voter resentment already has cost veteran Sen. Arlen Specter, a converted Democrat, his seat in Pennsylvania, and has ousted incumbent Republican Sen. Robert Bennett in Utah. It forced incumbent Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas into a primary runoff and turned out 14-term Democratic Rep. Allan Mollohan of West Virginia. That same convulsive political atmosphere propelled tea party darling Rand Paul to the GOP senatorial nomination in Kentucky.

In the Alabama governor’s race, Davis was overwhelmed by a white Democratic primary opponent who had garnered support from the state’s four major black political groups. Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks won the Democratic primary with 62 percent of the vote to Davis’s 38 percent, with 96 percent of the precincts reporting.

The state’s traditional civil rights organizations backed Sparks after Davis voted against President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul. But Davis, a Harvard lawyer who led Obama’s campaign here in 2008, had endorsements from Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights pioneer from Alabama, and Mobile’s first black mayor, Sam Jones.

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.”

The chairman of the black Alabama Democratic Conference, Joe Reed, said Davis was hurt by refusing to seek the endorsements of African-American groups and by voting against the federal health care plan.

Sparks said he went after every vote, and his call for an education lottery proved popular with primary voters. Davis conceded in Birmingham, where he said he would support Sparks in the general election.

Seven GOP candidates for governor were competing in their party’s primary Tuesday, and the top vote-getters were expected to go to a runoff on July 13.

Meanwhile, four-term Alabama Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby easily beat his primary challenger, tea party activist N.C. “Clint” Moser.

Shelby was drawing more than 80 percent of the votes in the unofficial count Tuesday evening. Shelby, 76, is favored to beat Democratic nominee Bill Barnes, a Birmingham lawyer.

Turnout across Alabama was light to moderate.

In New Mexico, the state’s governor’s race will be the third woman against woman gubernatorial general election matchup in U.S. history.

Susana Martinez, the Dona Ana County district attorney, beat her four GOP opponents with 51 percent of the vote in unofficial returns and 95 percent of precincts reporting. Former state GOP chairman Allen Weh had 27 percent.

Martinez will face Democrat Diane Denish, who didn’t have a primary opponent, in the general election.

The primary produced a political first for New Mexico because neither Democrats nor Republicans had ever selected a woman as their gubernatorial nominee.

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.

In Mississippi, no incumbents faced primary challenges.

Alan Nunnelee won the Republican nomination for a north Mississippi congressional seat. Unofficial results from the three-person GOP primary in the 1st District showed Nunnelee, a state senator from Tupelo, defeated former Eupora Mayor Henry Ross and Fox News analyst Angela McGlowan of Oxford.


Associated Press Writer John Zenor contributed to this report.