- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) Five-term Rep. Earl F. Hilliard was ousted in a Democratic runoff yesterday after a nasty campaign against a younger challenger who swamped the poor Alabama district with commercials questioning the incumbent's stance on the Middle East.

The surprise victory by Harvard-educated lawyer Artur Davis was tantamount to election because there was no Republican nominee.

With 77 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Davis had 40,549 votes, or 56 percent, and Mr. Hilliard had 31,792 votes, or 44 percent.

Mr. Hilliard became the fifth incumbent congressman to lose at the polls this year. The others were Democrats Gary A. Condit of California, Frank R. Mascara of Pennsylvania and Tom Sawyer of Ohio, and Republican Rep. Brian Kerns of Indiana, who like Mr. Mascara lost in a race between incumbents forced by redistricting.

In South Carolina, former Rep. Mark Sanford, one of the Republican "class of 1994," trounced Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler, the Republican favorite, to win his party's nod to take on freshman Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges this fall.

With all precincts reporting, Mr. Sanford had 181,984 votes, or 60 percent, and Mr. Peeler had 121,535, or 40 percent.

Some had cast the battle as a thinly disguised rematch between President Bush and presidential hopeful John McCain: Mr. Peeler worked for Mr. Bush two years ago and Mr. Sanford, a millionaire real estate developer, drew support from the Arizona senator.

"We will very quickly circle the wagons as Republicans because this campaign is about change, and to make change we're going to need a new governor of South Carolina," Mr. Sanford told cheering supporters at a barbecue restaurant.

In South Carolina's 3rd District, Gresham Barrett beat fellow state Rep. Jim Klauber in the Republican race to succeed Republican Rep. Lindsey Graham, who is running for the seat of retiring 99-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond.

Voters were choosing nominees in four other congressional races in South Carolina, Utah and Alabama, but it was the Hilliard-Davis race that drew the most attention for the most unlikely of reasons.

Mr. Hilliard, who supports what he calls a balanced Middle East policy by the United States, drew support from Arab groups while his opponent had the backing of Jewish and pro-Israel groups. Both men are black.

Mr. Hilliard was forced into the runoff after failing to win a majority in this month's primary. Mr. Davis was the first serious challenger to Mr. Hilliard since he won the seat in 1992 to become the first black member of Alabama's congressional delegation since Reconstruction.

The 60-year-old incumbent portrayed Mr. Davis as a Republican in disguise, a serious charge in the heavily Democratic district, which is 62 percent black. One Hilliard TV commercial depicted Davis supporters as white, cigar-smoking fat cats.

Mr. Davis, 34, accused Mr. Hilliard of doing little to help his district while lining his own pockets in Washington.

The Middle East conflict may have fueled fund raising, but it is far removed from daily life in the 7th District, a chronically poor part of the state stretching from Birmingham to rural western Alabama.

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