For Black Candidates, Top Spots Still Elusive

Susan Page, USA Today, June 14, 2010

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Nationwide, the number of African Americans winning major-party nominations for the high-profile offices hasn’t risen in the wake of Obama’s election. It has gone down.

A record six black candidates claimed these nominations in the 2006 midterms. This year, no more than four have a reasonable chance to be nominated.

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Among black candidates, Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick is seeking a second term. In Georgia, Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond faces an uphill race for the Senate against Republican incumbent Johnny Isakson and Attorney General Thurbert Baker is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, though former governor Roy Barnes is favored in the state’s July 20 primary.

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Then there’s Meek [Rep. Kendrick Meek], who cites Obama as an inspiration and met in Chicago this month with veterans of Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign for advice. But a $4 million advertising blitz over the past month by political unknown Jeff Greene has imperiled Meek’s nomination.

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Political scientists including Vincent Hutchings of the University of Michigan say Obama’s breakthrough not only hasn’t smoothed the way for other black candidates but has complicated it, at least for now.

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Oversized expectations

Why are there so few black nominees for top jobs this year?

The overwhelming majority of African-American candidates are Democrats, and some problems they’re encountering are familiar to Democratic contenders generally. Republicans hope a widespread sense that the nation is headed in the wrong direction could fuel an electoral tidal wave that might even cost Democrats control of Congress.

David Bositis, a veteran scholar of black politics at The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, says a lack of a deep bench of African-American officeholders in lower offices also has been a factor in the paucity of nominees for prized offices this year.

And he and others say it was never realistic to expect that Obama’s election, while a milestone, instantly would transform the nation’s racial politics. Expectations were oversized when he won: Seven in 10 Americans predicted in a USA TODAY survey that his election would make race relations better.

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Only a few black candidates in U.S. history have managed to do that. Since Reconstruction, the number of African Americans who have been elected senator or governor can be counted on one hand: governors Wilder and Patrick and senators Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and Obama. (Brooke was a Republican; the rest are Democrats.)

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