In the Shadow of Barack Obama: Two African American Senatorial Candidates in Georgia's 2004 Elections: Republican Herman Cain and Democrat Denise Majette

Article excerpt

Many will remember that, during the presidential election of 2004, incumbent President George W. Bush won reelection over Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry (D-Mass). Others will remember that African American Barack Obama (D-III) won a Senate seat in the state of Illinois. Still others may recollect that, in Georgia, an historic and precedent setting election occurred between two African Americans seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate. Republican, Herman Cain and Democrat, Denise Majette, sought not only their respective party's nomination, but they hoped to win, like Senator Obama, a seat in the Untied States Senate.

Georgia witnessed its first African American, Attorney Maynard Jackson, run for the United States Senate in 1968 (Walton, 1971; Walton & Martin, 1971). This was followed by the 1972 senatorial campaign of Civil Rights activist Reverend Hosea William. Although these were the pioneering African American senatorial candidates from the state of Georgia, these efforts renewed a tradition in the state where African American political hopefuls added the U.S. Senate to their list of political goals and aspirations. By 2004, African Americans had won four of the thirteen congressional seats allocated to the state of Georgia by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. In 1992, Georgia elected its first black congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, who remained in office for five consecutive terms. After a two year hiatus in 2002, congresswoman McKinney regained her office for a sixth term in 2004. Moreover, African American Democrats won two statewide elections in 1988, claiming the offices of the State Attorney General and the Commissioner of Labor. Both offices were recaptured in 2002. Therefore, future attempts at other high level elected positions among African American political aspirants are expected, particularly in the wake of prior political successes and due to the natural progression of political behavior.

The 2004 Republican Primary for the U.S. Senate

Not surprisingly, the African American electorate in Georgia is predominantly a Democratic one. Until the 2004 election cycle, all African American statewide elected officials were Democrats, as are the four current members of the U.S. House of Representatives. As of this writing, all African American members of the Georgia State Senate are Democrats. The big city mayors, in Savannah, Atlanta, Macon and Albany, Georgia are Democrats as is true for those African American elected officials at the county level. The nation would have to wait until January, 2005 before Georgia would receive its first African American Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives. At that time, Willie Lee Talton of Warner Robins, Georgia was sworn in as the first African American Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives since reconstruction. In 2006, a second African American from Snellville, Georgia, Melvin Everson joined the ranks of Republican State Representatives. There are currently 39 African Americans in the Georgia State House. Thirty Seven (95%) are Democrats and two (5%) are Republicans. Until the 1964 elections and the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Georgia was a one-party state, reaching back to the Reconstruction Era, With the steady rise in the number of African American Democratic elected officials from the state of Georgia, the white electorate began a gradual and precipitous exodus from the Democratic Party and into the Republican Party ranks. As the white electorate gravitated to the Republican banner, the number of elected white Republicans in Georgia began a steady rise. Some were elected and some merely switched parties or realigned themselves. This re-alignment of the white electorate to the Republican Party began, as it did in most southern states, at the presidential level.

Beginning with the Barry Goldwater (R. Ariz.) led Republican Party in 1964; the party adopted an anti-civil rights posture, rhetoric and a commitment, which continued with Richard Nixon in 1968. …