TAMPA, Fla. — Savaged by Democrats as an opportunistic turncoat, former Rep. Artur Davis — who switched to the GOP a few months ago and is being showcased at the convention — told me Sunday the blistering attacks say more about them than him.
After the Romney team announced Davis as a convention speaker, the Democratic National Committee produced a video last week titled, “For Artur Davis, It’s All About Artur Davis.”
“Oh, I pay zero attention to them,” Davis told me. “I think you’ve got some folks in the Democratic Party who have some lingering personal bitterness. They will either get over that or they won’t. I don’t particularly care one way or the other. Ultimately, this week is about Mitt Romney. “
When Barack Obama started running for president, Davis, then an Alabama congressman, was an early backer — one of Obama’s best-known African-American endorsers in Congress outside of the Illinois members.
We talked here as Davis was preparing to deliver a prime time speech on behalf of Mitt Romney — rescheduled to Wednesday night as Republicans revised the convention schedule because of Tropical Storm Isaac.
The last political convention Davis attended was with the Democrats in Denver, four years ago, when he delivered one of Obama’s nominating speeches. A Harvard Law School graduate — two years behind Obama — Davis was a 2008 Obama campaign co-chair.
But unlike Obama, who skyrocketed to fame with his 2004 Boston convention speech for Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry, Davis was not able on the strength of a convention speech to duplicate Obama’s success, albeit on a smaller scale. In 2010 Davis ran for Alabama governor and lost the Democratic primary.
Fast forward. Davis moved from Alabama and now lives in a Washington, D.C., suburb in Virginia — a major battleground state with a significant minority population.
In a May blog post, Davis, as he was changing parties, wrote, “wearing a Democratic label no longer matches what I know about my country and its possibilities.”
The Romney team welcomed Davis — it would love to be a new home for right-of-center Democrats. Davis jumping to the GOP comes as the party — as it does chronically — lacks prominent African Americans, even with Herman Cain running for president this year.
Democrats are figuring that Davis is positioning himself to revive his political career with a run from Virginia as a Republican. As Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) put it when we talked Sunday, Democrats are unfairly “maligning” his former colleague as an opportunist, “making the case that blacks can’t find opportunity in the Democratic Party, they have to stand in line too long, and in the Republican Party there is a chance for him to rush forward.”
We’re talking as former Florida Gov. Charles Crist on Sunday endorsed Obama. Crist is a former Republican who turned independent after he lost a Florida Senate primary bid to now Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
So this stuff happens in politics. Republicans will be taking their shots at Crist, trying to devalue his endorsement — in the critical swing state of Florida where every voter segment, including moderate Republicans, is being mined by Obama and Romney.
“I think Democrats are frustrated that Mitt Romney is in the position that he is in. I think every time that Democrats think they have turned a corner in this race, they turn around and see that they haven’t,” Davis said.
Voters are just not buying the argument that Obama deserves a second term, Davis told me, and Democrats “are taking out their frustration where they can.”
Essentially, Davis said, the party left him. “Democrats don’t have a lot of respect for conservatism.”
Obama in 2008 ran on a simple theme of “hope” and “change.” The Romney team has a giant “CHANGE” sign in the convention hall at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Dreier told me, “If you are running against the status quo, obviously change is what everybody is looking for because we are offering an alternative. It is not a new word. It was not a word that was developed in ’08.”
No one owns the argument for change. This week, we’ll see how well Romney makes it.