Dem Seeking to Be First Black Ala. Gov Loses

MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- A congressman seeking to become Alabama's first black governor lost to a white Democratic primary opponent who had garnered support from the state's four major black political groups.

Primaries were also held Tuesday in Mississippi and New Mexico, where Susana Martinez, a prosecutor from southern New Mexico, won the Republican nomination for governor and will face Democrat Diane Denish in a general election race deciding who becomes New Mexico's first woman governor.

Another Alabama congressman who switched party affiliation last year from Democrat to Republican lost his seat when he was defeated in his district's Republican primary by candidate backed by the conservative tea party movement.

In the Alabama governor's race, Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks won the Democratic primary with 62 percent of the vote to U.S. Rep. Artur 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, a civil rights pioneer from Alabama, and Mobile's first black mayor, Sam Jones.

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 a state lottery to help fund education proved popular with primary voters. Davis conceded in Birmingham, where he said he would support Sparks in the general election.

Seven Republican 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.

The health care overhaul was also an issue in Alabama's other big race, where Republican voters in the 5th Congressional district ousted first-term U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith, a former Democrat who switched to the Republican Party in December. Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks won with slightly more than 50 percent of the vote in a three-candidate field. He had tea party support and the backing of local Republican leaders still bitter over losing to Griffith in 2008, when he was still a Democrat.

The north Alabama district traditionally has been Democratic, but has leaned Republican in recent years. Four Democrats were competing for their party's nomination for the seat.

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, in the November election.

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

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

The primary produced a political first for New Mexico because neither Democrats nor Republicans had ever selected a woman as their gubernatorial nominee. Denish didn't have a primary opponent.

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 congressional incumbents faced primary challenges.

Alan Nunnelee, a state senator, won the Republican nomination for a north Mississippi congressional seat.