Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Role of a Voting Record for African American Candidates in Statewide Elections

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Role of a Voting Record for African American Candidates in Statewide Elections

Article excerpt


Even prior to the historic 2008 election, there has been interest in African American candidates for higher office. "Black elected officials receive greater notoriety because their probability of attaining high office is greater than it has been for any generation of Blacks in the United States (Gillespie, 201 Ob)." The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (2009) finds that "while there has been little recent change in the number of African Americans elected to statewide office, by the end of the period (2002-2007), more black elected officials (BEOs) in statewide office were in higher ranked positions." Yet only six African Americans have ever won a U.S. Senate seat or gubernatorial race.

Most studies on the subject focus on factors ranging from voting behavior of the electorate to "white-backlash" (Hagen, 1995; Highton, 2004). Others cover structural factors, including electoral dynamics and strategies of the candidates (Sonenshein, 1990). Much less has been focused on a shift from "race" to "ideology" or a candidate's voting record, where overt racial attacks have been mostly replaced by subtle attacks on African-Americans as being "too liberal" for higher office like governor and the U.S. Senate.

After reviewing several campaigns in the literature (Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke, California Governor candidate Tom Bradley, Virginia Governor Doug Wilder, North Carolina Senate candidate Harvey Gantt, New York Governor candidate Carl McCall and Texas Senate candidate Ron Kirk) for the emerging role of ideology in voting records in attempts to run deracial campaigns, I examine five additional elections featuring African American members of the U.S. House of Representatives who sought statewide office: Alan Wheat of Missouri in the 1994 U.S. Senate race, Cleo Fields in the 1995 Louisiana Governor's race, William Jefferson in the 1999 Louisiana Governor's race, Denise Majette of Georgia in the 2004 U.S. Senate race, and Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee in the 2006 U.S. Senate race. With the exception of Ford, these cases received less coverage in the literature. Each candidate was accused of being "too liberal" to represent a state in the U.S. Senate or in a governor's mansion. Their voting ideologies are compared to their electoral outcomes to determine if there is a connection between both factors. Additionally, I examine years of congressional experience, the state's African American population percentage, the type of office sought, whether the African American candidate or opponent in the general election faced primary opposition, whether the opponent had run for statewide office before, the year of the election, and how well the party did in the last election to see if they play a greater impact upon the electoral outcome than a candidate's congressional voting record.

The Importance Of Ideology For African Americans In Statewide Elections

African American candidates have made gains in elections since the 1950s and 1960s. But despite the impressive 2004 Illinois Senate victory and 2008 Presidential election triumph by Barack Obama, the number of African Americans who prevail in gubernatorial and senate elections remains scant (Jeffries and Jones, 2006). On the eve of Barack Obama's 2012 reelection, only one African American was governor (Deval Patrick) and no African Americans were in the U.S. Senate (though in 2013 Cory Booker won a special election to the U.S. Senate in New Jersey and Rep. Tim Scott was appointed to an open South Carolina seat).

Why do African American candidates, many with impressive resumes of political experience, come up short in statewide elections? The answer may come from the first African American to be elected governor since the Reconstruction Era. When L. Douglas Wilder, then a legislator, ran for Lt. Governor before his historic victory in 1989, his opponent derided him as a liberal. "This prompted] Wilder to argue that the word liberal was being used as a code word for Black (Jeffries, 2002, p. …

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