Obama Protege Runs For Governor Of Alabama

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Artur Davis’ campaign to become Alabama’s first black governor is drawing notice as far off as New York, where a prominent attorney organized a top-dollar fundraiser at his swanky Manhattan penthouse. A rival Democrat, Ron Sparks, is also angling for funds far ahead of the party’s 2010 primary — by calling all donors to a fish fry.

Invitations to New York attorney Sanford Rubenstein’s fundraiser Monday night suggested contributions could be made in amounts of between $1,000 and $10,000. The address on the invitations? Rubenstein’s penthouse on Manhattan’s affluent East side.

Davis’ primary rival, state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, also organized his own fundraiser Monday night — an old-fashioned fish fry in a rural area of west Alabama. Sparks said his would be an outdoor event drawing about 200 supporters.

No matter how they do it, both camps’ efforts to collect cash are likely to shake up the governor’s race early.

Davis campaign chairman Jere Beasley said interest in the Democratic congressman’s run for governor is being whetted outside the state because of his ties to President Barack Obama — and the historic bid to become the first black governor of the Deep South state.

“The early financial support that Congressman Davis is receiving both here in Alabama and across the country is a clear demonstration of the strength and appeal of his candidacy,” said Beasley, a Montgomery attorney.

Rubenstein, the Manhattan host of the Davis reception, is accustomed to the limelight.

He was among lawyers who secured an $8.75 million settlement for Haitian immigrant Abner Louima after his beating by New York police in 1997. He has helped handle other high-profile cases, including one involving a $2 million settlement for the family of a woman who died on the floor of a hospital after waiting more than 24 hours for treatment. He even has represented the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Rubenstein did not return messages Monday seeking comment.

Davis campaign spokesman Alex Goepfert said Rubenstein is a longtime Democratic contributor who has helped former president Bill Clinton and former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. He said it was uncertain how many would attend the New York event or how much it would raise for Davis, a Harvard graduate and an attorney.

“You are going to see more interest in the campaign from all over the country,” Beasley said, noting Davis was also Obama’s state campaign chairman in Alabama and one of his earliest supporters.

Sparks, meanwhile, sought to pick up funds closer to home at a fishing camp owned by a retired insurance salesman in Millport, a town of about 1,200 people in west Alabama.

Sparks, a graduate of the Northeast Alabama Community College and agriculture commissioner since 2003, said he was uncertain how much money the fish fry would raise. His fundraiser didn’t have a suggested contribution like the Davis event in New York.

“I don’t run in those kinds of circles,” Sparks said with a jab at his rival. “I run with the people of Alabama.”

That said, out-of-state donations are not unusual in campaigns for Alabama governor whenever a candidate is known beyond state borders.

In the 2006 race for governor, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore landed many out-of-state contributions from people who admired his unsuccessful legal fight to display the Ten Commandments in the state judicial building earlier this decade. High-profile candidates routinely draw contributions from political groups in Washington.

Candidates for governor won’t have to report their contributions until January.

Sparks said his fish fry wouldn’t raise nearly as much as Davis’ reception, but that didn’t concern him.

“It’s pretty obvious we have different approaches on how to move Alabama forward,” he said.

Regardless of the cash raised, thewinner of the Davis-Sparks primary in June 2010 has a difficult challenge in the general election that November. Republicans have won every Alabama race for governor except one since 1986.

On the Republican side of the ballot, Moore is running again along with several others.

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