Can an African-American become the next Governor of Alabama? Once unthinkable in a state infamous for its history of segregation, U.S. Representative Artur Davis wants to break through in 2010.

Davis, 42, is serving his fourth term in Congress. He represents Alabama’s 7th district, a 12-county expanse that stretches from the urban Birmingham to rural farmland.

The Montgomery native was raised by his mother and grandmother. A top scholar, Davis went on to attend Harvard University for undergraduate and law school, graduating with honors from both.

During his tenure at Harvard Law, Davis interned for the Southern Poverty Law Center and worked for U.S. Senator Howell Heflin. From 1994 to 1998, he garnered an almost perfect trial conviction record in Montgomery as a federal prosecutor, then spent the next four years as a litigator in private practice.

Congressman Davis has spent nearly 15 years in public service. Currently, he’s a member of the House’s prestigious Ways and Means committee, which oversees economic policy.

Known for his pragmatic style, Davis has achieved legislative victories on Capitol Hill. He forged bipartisan coalitions that helped him save the wildly successful HOPE VI public-housing program, and was a leading force in the push to re-open the Pigford black farmers’ lawsuit.

Recently, Davis introduced the “Main Street Survival Act” to establish a $1 billion loan fund for small and mid-sized businesses struggling to obtain credit amidst the recession. Alabama’s Anniston Star newspaper praised its merits in a December editorial.

But not every legislative move has been lauded. In November, Jesse Jackson criticized Davis for voting ‘no’ on the House health care bill, the only African-American member to do so.

Still, Davis’ political popularity has long been strong. Unopposed in 2006 and 2008, Davis received the largest total popular vote cast in any Congressional primary in the country. In 2008, Esquire magazine named him one of the 10 best members of congress.

Polls in Alabama have indicated that both blacks and whites are open to voting for him in the gubernatorial race. As the race unfolds, Davis could write a new chapter in Alabama’s history books.