Sewell one step closer to making history
Birmingham attorney Terri Sewell won the Democratic nomination Tuesday for Congress in Alabama's heavily Democratic 7th Congressional District. In the November general election, she will face Selma businessman Don Chamberlain, who won the Republican nomination in Tuesday's GOP runoff.
Sewell defeated Jefferson County Commissioner Shelia Smoot, winning about 55 percent of the vote with 100 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday night.
Sewell will be the odds-on favorite heading into the general election in the majority-black district that stretches from Birmingham and Bessemer through parts of Tuscaloosa and Pickens counties and includes all of Hale, Greene, Marengo, Sumter, Dallas, Choctaw and Wilcox counties and part of Clarke County.
A victory in November would make her the state's first black congresswoman and the second woman in Alabama elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Alabama's first woman in the House was Democrat Elizabeth Andrews, who won a special election in 1971 to complete the term of her late husband, George Andrews, who represented the southeast part of the state. She did not seek re-election in 1972.
Sewell, a Selma native and Birmingham bond attorney who also has worked in Washington and New York, was virtually unknown when she entered the race last year in her first run for public office. She faced better-known and more seasoned politicians Smoot and State Rep. Earl Hilliard Jr., the son of a former congressman. Sewell, however, led the four-candidate Democratic primary in June with 37 percent of the vote. Smoot edged out Hilliard for a run-off spot with 29 percent of the vote.
Sewell outraised Smoot by more than 7-1 in campaign donations with much of her campaign war chest being filled by out-of-state donors. She received the backing of Emily's List, the political group that backs progressive women candidates who favor the right to abortion, according to its website. The Emily's List endorsement let Sewell tap into the group's extensive donors list.
With more than $1.2 million for her campaign, Sewell was able to wage an aggressive media advertising campaign to get her name out. In her television commercials, Sewell linked herself closely to President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. She said she would support the president in Congress.
In comparison, Smoot raised about $169,000 in donations, according to her latest campaign finance reports. Going into the campaign, however, Smoot was better known, having worked as a Birmingham TV reporter before entering politics.
Sewell was unavailable for comment Tuesday evening, but her campaign manager, Aaron Dickerson, said she was honored to be the nominee and planned to continue an aggressive campaign through November.
Dickerson said Sewell planned to focus on job creation in the district, which has some of the highest unemployment rates in the state.
Republican nominee Chamberlain, said he, too, sees jobs and the economy as the major issues and said he planned to actively campaign on those issues.
Chamberlain said he would emphasize a need for Republicans and Democrats, whites and blacks to unite to get people back to work.
Chamberlain, who said he had about $11,000 in his campaign coffers, said he planned to campaign in the black community and said he already has talked to number of black ministers about conveying his message in the district's churches.
Chamberlain defeated Birmingham businessman Chris Salter in the GOP run-off, winning about 56 percent of the vote.
The 7th Congressional District seat became open when incumbent Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, chose to run for governor rather than seek re-election. Davis was defeated in the Democratic primary in June and has since announced that he will retire from elected politics to practice law.
A majority-black 7th district was created following the 1990 census. Earl Hilliard Sr. then won the congressional seat in 1992, becoming the state's first black congressman since Reconstruction. Hilliard was defeated by Davis in the 2002 Democratic primary.