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Sewell Leads Pack in Early Fundraising for Ala. Open Seat

A crowd is starting to gather in the race to replace Rep. Artur Davis (D) in Alabama’s 7th district, where a sixth candidate threw his hat into the ring earlier this month.

While it is too soon to designate a frontrunner in the race, Birmingham attorney Terri Sewell (D) is leaving her competitors in the dust when it comes to early fundraising efforts, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission last week.

Sewell, who is not as well-known as some of the other announced candidates, brought in more than $173,000 during the second quarter and reported more than $247,000 in cash on hand as of June 30.

Sewell’s sum doubled that of state Rep. Earl Hilliard Jr. (D), who raised about $86,000 in the second quarter. But Hilliard — the son of former Rep. Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.) — also spent nearly half of what he raised and reported about $46,000 in the bank at the end of June.

Jefferson County Commissioner Shelia Smoot (D) and former Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr. (D), who both joined the race during the second quarter, also filed FEC reports last week. Smoot raised about $35,000 and had about $25,000 in the bank at the end of last month, while Perkins raised about $13,000 and ended the quarter with about $12,000 on hand.

The two other announced Democratic candidates are Birmingham attorney Martha Bozeman and Tuscaloosa businessman Eddison Walters, who challenged Davis in the 2006 primary and took just 9 percent of the vote.

The west-central, Birmingham-based 7th district is a majority black and heavily Democratic — giving President Barack Obama 71 percent of the vote in 2008. As such, the Democratic primary will be the only election that matters in the race to fill Davis’ shoes.

After four terms in the House, Davis is seeking the governorship in 2010, and if he is elected he will be the state’s first black governor.

Davis has personal ties to several of the Democrats who are vying to replace him, including Bozeman, who previously worked as the campaign manager for several of his Congressional bids. But the Congressman has said repeatedly that he intends to remain on the sidelines in the race and let the June 2010 primary play out.

Hilliard’s father represented the district for five terms before being ousted by Davis in a bitter 2002 primary. The younger Hilliard probably enjoys the biggest advantage when it comes to name identification in the district. Smoot, a two-term county commissioner who also has her own radio show, is also fairly well-known.

But that may not matter if Sewell — who raised $124,000 in the first quarter — keeps up the fundraising lead between herself and the rest of the field. A quarter-million dollars buys a lot of TV ad airtime in the relatively inexpensive Birmingham media market, which covers about 80 percent of the district, and the Montgomery media market, which covers about 15 percent of the district.

Hilliard said last week that he’s not too concerned about Sewell’s second-quarter fundraising, adding that he is on target with his own goals as he continues to set up his campaign infrastructure. He noted that Sewell works at a large law firm, giving her a large base of early financial support to pull money from.

“I’ve been around campaigns for a long time and I think that there’s always going to be somebody who raises more money,— he said. “I don’t think we get into … needing to outraise somebody. It’s just about raising enough money to do what your campaign has planned … and that’s what we’re focusing on.—

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