This slate of qualified candidates and the growing line still forming on the Republican side provides rich material for those following the 2010 gubernatorial campaign in its earliest stages. Yet, the majority of the discussion, and for those candidates down ballot on the Democratic side, speculation surrounds the potential impact should Davis emerge as the Democratic nominee.
Conventional wisdom seems to be that because President Obama was at the top of the ticket, the results of the 2008 presidential race in Alabama project the outcome of the 2010 general election if another black candidate leads the ticket. This conclusion, based solely on a black candidate being at the top of the ticket, is simply wrong.
While election results can provide invaluable insight into an electorate and be instructional to future candidates and campaigns, no single election can forecast the outcome of a subsequent one.
In Tennessee, our neighbor to the north, where politics are just as conservative and demographics are slightly less diverse, Obama lost to Republican John McCain last November 57 percent to 42 percent.
But two years earlier, another black candidate, Congressman Harold Ford Jr., had a very different experience when he ran for the U.S. Senate. In that statewide election, Ford narrowly lost to the former mayor of Chattanooga, Bob Corker, by only 3 percentage points.
Despite the Democratic ticket being led in both elections by black candidates, the outcome of the 2006 Tennessee Senate campaign did not come close to paralleling the state's voting in the 2008 presidential campaign.
Furthermore, apart from the shared racial backgrounds of both candidates, Obama's 2008 presidential campaign in Alabama and Davis' 2010 campaign have almost nothing in common. The most significant difference between the '08 outcome and the 2010 Davis campaign will be the sheer existence of the latter.
The Obama campaign didn't even try to win the state of Alabama. After receiving his party's nomination, Obama did not campaign in the state prior to the general election, his campaign didn't run many local advertisements and had very little presence overall. In contrast, even before the official campaign season has opened, Davis has already hit the campaign trail, has hired top staff and consultants and appears to be on the trail whenever Congress is not in session.
A gubernatorial campaign in which the candidate travels the state, actively confronts local issues, speaks to voters, runs advertisements and organizes supporters will provide a stark contrast to the past presidential election.
While these things might not add up to a successful gubernatorial bid for Davis, they do suggest that he will fare much better than Obama did in Alabama and should go a long way in dismissing the notion that he will have a negative effect on Democratic candidates down ballot.
In 2008, when McCain beat Obama 60 percent to 39 percent in the presidential campaign in Alabama, state Democrats picked up one congressional seat and held onto another one in serious jeopardy. In the state Supreme Court campaign further down ballot, Judge Greg Shaw topped Judge Deborah Bell Paseur, but it was by a far closer margin — 50.2 percent to 49.6 percent. If Obama had received just 1 more percent of the vote (20,323 votes), the margin of 12,892 votes would have been more than erased.
In addition, the Alabama electorate has a large swath of voters who regularly cross the ballot to vote for Republicans and Democrats for different offices. The current composition of the state's elected offices illustrates this well. The state's federal delegation and appellate courts primarily are filled with Republicans and the vast majority of the seats in the state Legislature and sheriffs' offices are filled with Democrats.
This past election cycle, after voting at the top of the ticket for McCain, 195,000 Alabama voters crossed the ballot to vote for Paseur in the Supreme Court campaign. Alabama voters will continue this long tradition of splitting their tickets in 2010.
As Democrats enter the upcoming election season, they can be confident in the impressive slate of announced and potential gubernatorial candidates. Any of these potential Democratic nominees would be worthy challengers and should be feared — but only by the myriad of potential Republican opponents, not by members of their own party.
Marion Steinfels is a national political strategist and an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama's Honors College.