Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why has it been so Difficult for Black Candidates to win Statewide races in the Deep South since Reconstruction? Will it Change this year?

Harold Ford, Jr

Michael Thurmond

It amazes me that there have only been Four Black candidates that have ever been elected to the U.S. Senate since reconstruction. Edward Brooke (R) & the other three all from Illinois: Carol Moseley Braun, Barack Obama & Roland Burris, all democrats.

In 1990s Harvey Gantt almost defeated arch-conservative Jesse Helms for the North Carolina Senate Seat & 2007 then congressman Harold Ford Jr, narrowly lost to Bob Corker for the open senate seat in Tennessee. This year you have Artur Davis running for governor of Alabama, Thurbert Baker of Georgia, Mike Thurmond, RJ Hadley & Kendrick Meek for U.S. Senate seats in Georgia & Florida respectively. Will this change this year?

For example, look at the state of Mississippi. Its state population is almost 40% African American, but it African-American Candidates do not fare well when they are running statewide. Georgia according to the 2000 census has about a 30% African-American population, which most likely has increased since then.

Percentage of Black Population in these southern states:

Mississippi 37.4 R +8 9.0%
Louisiana 31.6 R +6 5.6%
Georgia 29.8 R +6 4.3%
South Carolina 28.6 R +7 3.3%
Alabama 26.3 R +9 2.1%
Florida 15.4 D +1 1.0%
Tennessee 16.8 R +3 0.8%
Arkansas 15.6 R +3 0.7%
North Carolina 21.4 R +5 1.5%

Due to Gerrymandering, which led to the creation of majority back districts, Black candidates have not had to develop a message that appeals to white voters, because most of them don't have very many white voters in their districts, (like David Scott, John Lewis, Artur Davis over in Alabama for example) plus they do not have very many conservative voters in their districts, and so they have not had to develop a message that appeals to conservatives, even though the black population itself is far more diverse in its political views than is generally acknowledged (like here in the 2nd congressional district where Sanford Bishop is the representative, who was first elected in 1992, in which was then a white majority district). Bishop would have been the perfect candidate to run statewide due to his moderate/Conservative voting record prior to 2008. He's socially conservative, economically moderate, in addition has strong crossover appeal. But if were to run statewide in the near future, that'll be all gone due to his vote for the Healthcare reform among other things.

But back to the question I asked, why have there been only 4 black senators that have been elected to the U.S. Senate?

Well here are some of my theories:

-Since most blacks are going to vote for Democrats no matter what, Democrats use this fact and do not push blacks to run for the highest offices. If someone is going to do something for you anyway, why not take advantage of them seems to be the line of thinking.

-Many black office holders have safe majority-minority districts or serve in majority-black cities, why take a chance on a tough statewide race?

-Black politicians often have a terrible record of cultivating new people and young people for the tough battles ahead. It’s easy to sit in a safe seat and accumulate power . It is more difficult to help people and fight for people in a more constructive way.

-States with high Black populations are still outnumbered by whites by two to one, are unlikely places for a Black candidate to run statewide and win with the support of a quarter of the white vote.

RJ Hadley

The vast majority of blacks in the House of Representatives who could be good statewide candidates have come from majority-black districts, which seems to reflect a general fact that black legislators can't seem to get elected easily from majority-white populations. Some states simply don't have a lot of black people to run for office. Then there are also the socio-economic factors that make it harder for black people to end up in the position to be able to run for government to begin with.

Some factors are due directly to anti-black racism. There are some people who are very resistant to voting for a black person. Some voters admitted to this during the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama & John McCain. I'm not sure that's the main explanation, though. There are a lot of people who are willing to vote for a black candidate but who just don't vote for the ones who are running.

Harvey Gannt

Although I voted for Barack Obama, it didn't come very easily. I was a John Edwards supporter & I wasn't that warm to Hillary Clinton. Obama was a virtual unknown to me & I didn't have a clue on how he was going to be as president. I was leaning toward McCain, but in the end, I went for president Obama, but I'd be happy to vote for someone like Michael Steele or J.C. Watts.

Moderates are more likely to get elected to statewide office than extremists except in very strongly politically-aligned states. I should note that the two closest black candidates to the Senate who lost in recent elections were Harold Ford, Jr., a moderate Democrat, Michael Steele, a Maryland Republican & back in 1990 Harvey Gantt who almost upended Jesse Helms. Neither is ideologically very much like the typical member of his respective party, Ford because he's much more moderate than many Democrats and Steele because he's moderate to conservative in the GOP. Tennessee and Maryland voters didn't actually go for either, but both got enough support to remain continuing figures in politics, although Ford wrecked his political career by flirting with a Senate run up in New York & changing his position on Abortion, so he can forget about running for public office again in the state of Tennessee.

Artur Davis

But there are some people who would be comfortable voting for perceived moderates from either party, even if they lean to one party, who resist voting for many black candidates, and I can think of two reasons why this would be so. One is that most black candidates don't come across as moderates the way Barack Obama does or did in his run for president, and most of the black politicians who managed to win statewide elections have been relatively moderate-sounding on at least certain issues.

Take president Obama for example, he was not raised ethnically black, even if he's racially black just because of what he looks like. His mother is white. He was born in Hawaii and partly raised in the rural Midwest. His black father isn't African-American, (African) and he was absent most of his life. It also helped that his policies were, on the whole but with a few exceptions (most notably health care), more liberal than Hillary Clinton's, and his rhetoric is more decidedly socialist even if his implementation is very gradualist. So the black community eventually came to accept him as "black enough". What about white voters?

Thurbert Baker

His moderate rhetoric and likable manner appealed to middle America, which in effect helped him tremendously in hie run for the White House. But notice the difference between him and most black politicians. Most black politicians are decidedly race-focused & that's a non-starter when running for the U.S.Senate, or any statewide office for that matter. Many black candidates have represented themselves and black politicians in general in such a black anti-white racist way that it's hard for many white voters to see them as serious candidates unless they see a clear difference.

So why are there so few black Senators or governors governors and Congressmen & Women in the U.S. House from majority-white districts? The explanation isn't very simply. Racism certainly has something to do with it, both direct and immediate in some voters and the racism of previous generations in its indirect effects. But a number of other factors play a role, and a good part of the explanation has to do with which potential black candidates are actually running for these offices.

Another factor to consider: most successful politicians have some kind of academic, business, or military success prior to their political success. Is the achievement gap in these areas still significant enough that it is feeding fewer qualified blacks into the political arena than whites? I don't know.

Kendrick Meek

Here in 2010, You have Michael Thurmond, who currently Labor Commissioner of Georgia running for the senate held by republican Johnny Isakson. Down in Florida, Kendrick Meek is running for the open senate seat formerly held by republican Mel Martinez. Meeks is from a majority-Minority District & is trying to win in a state that is more conservative leaning that his minority-majority district.

And here in Ga, Mike Thurmond is trying for another statewide seat: The U.S. Senate. Thurmond has won three statewide contest since 1998 (becoming the first black candidate to win a statewide seat from the deep south without being appointed. Another candidate, R.J. Hadley, another African-American Candidate is also vying for the senate seat as well. Thurmond is a centrist, African-American Democrat who first won a seat to the State Legislature from a majority white district out of Clarke County. Thurmond is not your race-baiting, play the victim card black candidate that most of us have seen on television. Thurmond has significant appeal among white voters in the state & is one of, if not the most popular statewide candidate in Georgia.

The question is will Georgia, a former state of the confederacy where Jim Crow was the law of the land, a republican leaning state elect a African-American to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction? That remains to be seen. You already know that the GOP are going to try to tie either Thurmond or Hadley to President Obama & the wildly unpopular Nancy Pelosi & Co when it comes to his policies. If Thurmond can win statewide three times here, he can definitely win a seat to the U.S. Senate. The Senate is a different kind of animal that Labor Commissioner. It rivals that of governor where Thurbert Baker, a conservative African-American Democrat is battling for the democratic nomination.

Baker is the long-time Attorney General of Georgia, having been appointed by Zell Miller to the office back in 1997. He is the kind of African-American candidate that has the tools to win in a southern, conservative leaning state. If he were to go on to win the democratic nomination, no one know how his refusal to join the other Attorney Generals (mostly republicans) in suing the federal government over the constitutionality of the new Healthcare Reform Bill. But he has the type of track record that can definitely appeal to a cross section of voters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Man you hit right on the head with this article. A-A's can win statewide in the south, but if they come from majority black district's it lessen their chances, but everything else you mentioned I do not disagree with.

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