Once 'The Obama Of Alabama,' Now A GOP Headliner

Artur Davis, with his wife, Tara, concedes the Democratic gubernatorial race in Birmingham, Ala., in 2010. Since losing that race, he has become a Republican and moved to Virginia. i i

hide captionArtur Davis, with his wife, Tara, concedes the Democratic gubernatorial race in Birmingham, Ala., in 2010. Since losing that race, he has become a Republican and moved to Virginia.

Mark Almond/AP
Artur Davis, with his wife, Tara, concedes the Democratic gubernatorial race in Birmingham, Ala., in 2010. Since losing that race, he has become a Republican and moved to Virginia.

Artur Davis, with his wife, Tara, concedes the Democratic gubernatorial race in Birmingham, Ala., in 2010. Since losing that race, he has become a Republican and moved to Virginia.

Mark Almond/AP

Four years ago in Denver, Artur Davis took the podium at the Democratic National Convention to speak up for Barack Obama.

"I am honored to second the nomination of the man whose victory tonight takes us closer to becoming what we know America can be," he said.

But now, as President Obama seeks re-election, Davis is on the list of scheduled speakers for the Republican National Convention.

The former Democratic congressman from Alabama, who tried and failed to become the state's first black governor, is now a Republican resident of Virginia.

And this time around, he will be calling for the president's defeat.

From Supporter To Detractor

Davis and Obama have known each other since their days at Harvard Law School. Davis was an early supporter of Obama's presidential campaign — the first member of Congress from outside Illinois to endorse him.

He was one of Obama's most prominent supporters in Alabama and helped the future president win the state's Democratic primary. But now, Davis says he is disenchanted with the man he helped to victory in 2008.

"Let's not forget, four years ago, Sen. Obama said, 'We're the ones we've been waiting for. We have the capacity to change and to break this gridlock' — and I think, unfortunately, some of the president's own policies have pushed us further apart."

Davis voted against the president's signature achievement, the health care overhaul, which he said was pushed across with "an aggressive, party-line ... take-it-or-leave-it strategy." In 2010, after four terms in Washington, Davis gave up his safe seat in Congress to run for the Democratic nomination for governor in Alabama. He lost by 24 percentage points.

NPR spoke with Davis in June, shortly after he announced he was leaving the Democratic Party to become a Republican.

Barack Obama, then a Democratic candidate for president, hugs former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, in Selma, Ala., in 2007. i i

hide captionBarack Obama, then a Democratic candidate for president, hugs former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, in Selma, Ala., in 2007.

Rob Carr/AP
Barack Obama, then a Democratic candidate for president, hugs former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, in Selma, Ala., in 2007.

Barack Obama, then a Democratic candidate for president, hugs former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, in Selma, Ala., in 2007.

Rob Carr/AP

"When I look at where I lean on the issues that people are debating today, when I look at where I lean in the questions that are most important to me — the economy and education — I see more alignment, more philosophical compatibility, with the Republican Party than I do the Democratic Party," Davis said.

He says there is no tolerance among Democrats for center-right views, such as his own.

A Political Turnaround

Democrats have questioned whether Davis' conversion to the GOP is less a question of dissatisfaction with party ideology and more a matter of sour grapes after losing his bid to become Alabama governor.

Davis' biography is an up-by-the-bootstraps story. He was raised in Montgomery, Ala., by his mother and grandmother after his parents divorced.

He says that while African-Americans have traditionally supported the Democratic Party, Republicans can change that.

"I think that if Republicans talk about growing this economy, talk about overhauling education, and, frankly, govern and operate in an inclusive manner when it comes to race, I think that's the best way to make the case to black voters in the next 10 years," he says.

His role as a headliner at the Republican convention later this month marks a remarkable 180-degree political transformation for Davis. And he carries an important message for the GOP, telling undecided voters that if this man, who was once dubbed "the Obama of Alabama," is now behind Mitt Romney, you can be, too.

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