Blacks Who Run for Governor and the U.S. Senate: An Examination of Their Candidacies

Article excerpt

Abstract

Campaigns of Blacks who have run for high profile statewide office from 1966 to 2006 were examined in this systematic study. Every Black high profile statewide candidate who has advanced to the general election was examined to ascertain what Blacks can do to be elected governor and to the U.S. senate. To do this, we conducted a content analysis of the flagship newspapers for each state where elections were held. Additionally, we reviewed data derived from in-depth interviews with two former high profile statewide office holders and results of voters. We submit that because Whites are reluctant to vote for Blacks, especially Black high profile statewide candidates, Blacks will need to serve an appropriate apprenticeship, garner strong party backing, and implement an effective deracialized campaign strategy if they hope to offset White voter hostility.

Introduction

To say that Blacks have not enjoyed the same kind of success at winning high profile2 statewide elections as they have at the local level is an understatement. Only five Blacks have ever been elected to high profile statewide office-recently elected Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Senators Barack Obama (elected to serve 2004 to present) and Carol Mosely Braun of Illinois (elected to serve 1992-1998), Governor L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia (elected to serve 1989-1993), and Massachusetts Senator Edward W. Brooke III (elected to serve 19661979). By contrast, hundreds and thousands of Blacks have won congressional, mayoral, assembly, and city council seats; and approximately 50 Blacks have been elected to lower statewide offices. High profile statewide offices seem to present Black office seekers with a more formidable challenge than do other elected offices.

In Sonenshein's (1990) trailblazing article he notes the difficulty Blacks have had winning statewide offices. By comparing Edward W. Brooke's 1966 Massachusetts United States Senate campaign with that of Tom Bradley's 1982 California gubernatorial campaign and L. Douglas Wilder's 1985 lieutenant governor's race, Sonenshein maintains that despite Blacks' lack of success they can win statewide elections if they pay their political dues, run in states where Whites have liberal attitudes, and develop a campaign strategy that appeals to White voters (Sonenshein, 1990). To that end, Black candidates are obliged to craft campaigns that enable them to garner tremendous support from White voters in order to capture high profile statewide offices. Sonenshein's other points are problematic; he suggested that Blacks should identify states where Whites have liberal attitudes and run there. Liberal attitudes are apparently measured by Whites' willingness to vote for Black candidates in the past. However, Whites' voting for Blacks in lower-level offices such as mayor and the state legislature has not translated into voting for a Black gubernatorial or U.S. Senatorial hopeful. Also, while we agree that Black candidates have to pay their political dues, Sonenshein errs by putting the lieutenant governor's office on par with that of the governor's and U.S. Senator's. Although the office of lieutenant governor is a statewide post, it is not commensurate with that of the governor's or the U.S. Senate.

High profile statewide offices differ from lower statewide posts in the following ways: (a) they are substantively more powerful, (b) they have more responsibility, (c) they elicit greater media and voter interest, (d) their campaigns are significantly more costly, and (e) candidates for high profile statewide office are expected to possess stronger political resumes than lower statewide office seekers. Consequently, for Blacks, winning high profile statewide offices has proven more daunting than winning lower statewide posts (e.g., lieutenant governor and state Supreme Court judge). Black politicians with whom we have spoken concur with this assessment. Judge Robert Benham, of the Georgia Appeals Court, acknowledged Whites' reluctance to vote for Blacks in high profile statewide contests, saying he believes that many White Georgians were delighted to vote for a Black judicial candidate. …