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Earl change

Middle East met Deep South on June 25 as Alabama primary voters defeated a five-term lawmaker who was a vocal critic of Israel. Rep. Earl Hilliard, the first black congressman from Alabama since Reconstruction, lost the runoff by 12 points against Artur Davis, a 34-year-old, Harvard-educated lawyer. Mr. Davis also is African-American, but the two men differed sharply on other questions of ethnicity. Mr. Hilliard, the incumbent, supported a variety of Arab causes during his tenure, even visiting Libya in 1997 over the objections of the Clinton State Department. Earlier this spring, he was one of just a handful of lawmakers who refused to support a resolution backing Israel in its war against terrorism. That stance vaulted the little-known Mr. Davis into national prominence. Jewish groups across the country poured money into his campaign, and by election day he had raised almost $100,000 more than the incumbent. Mr. Hilliard tried to portray his opponent as a Republican in disguise, and black leaders nationwide-from the Rev. Al Sharpton to the Congressional Black Caucus-rushed to his aid. But voters didn't buy it, as Mr. Davis noted in his victory speech: "Racial division and religious bigotry have no place in the 7th district. We are one people. We are one community, and anyone who comes into this city to divide us is going to be sent back home." -Bob Jones

My way, ora clogged highway

Republican Senators are fuming at Democratic delays in approving judicial and executive-branch nominees. John McCain got so fed up last week that he announced he'd halt the entire nomination process unless the Senate quickly approved a new member for the Federal Election Commission (FEC). One catch: The nominee Mr. McCain is fighting for is a Democrat. Sen. McCain and other champions of new campaign-finance restrictions were infuriated by a recent 4-2 vote by the FEC that essentially gutted the limits on soft-money donations under the McCain-Feingold bill. By law, the commission is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, but Karl J. Sandstrom, a Democratic appointee, voted with the Republican members to weaken the soft-money limits. In May, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle recommended Ellen Weintraub to replace Mr. Sandstrom, who is serving only until his successor is named. The McCain-Daschle alliance hopes that Ms. Weintraub, a Washington lawyer, will have fewer scruples about protecting free speech than Mr. Sandstrom, who has been forced to defend his vote against bitter criticism by his own party. The White House says it is taking Mr. Daschle's recommendation "very seriously," but a spokesman points out that Ms. Weintraub's name surfaced only six weeks ago. Meanwhile, scores of President Bush's nominees have been held up for 10 times that long. If Sen. McCain makes good on his threat, they may have to wait a lot longer. -B.J.

Romney's seven-year hitch

In politics, as in literature, it may be true that you can't go home again. Not if you're going home to be governor, anyway. After a successful stint as chairman of the organizing committee for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Republican Mitt Romney turned his attention to Massachusetts politics. His deep pockets and glittering resumé quickly cleared the GOP gubernatorial field. Even Jane Swift, the state's acting governor, announced she wouldn't run against him. Mr. Romney's resumé may have impressed the GOP, but his tax returns thrilled the Democrats. They discovered that although Mr. Romney had kept a home in Belmont, Mass., for more than 30 years, he filed his taxes as a Utah resident in 1999 and 2000, when he was overseeing the Olympics. Because state law requires seven years of residency in Massachusetts prior to a gubernatorial bid, Democrats say Mr. Romney is ineligible for office. They made their case before the state Ballot Law Commission on June 24. Mr. Romney corrected his returns in April, after deciding to run for governor. He says he provided his accounting firm, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, only with his financial information, and that the accountants incorrectly listed him as a Utah resident. -B.J.


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