From Maryland to Tennessee to Ohio, the 2006 elections already
hold a place in the history books: More black candidates from both
major parties are mounting serious campaigns for upper-tier office -
senator or governor - than ever before.
Even more noteworthy, three of the six men are Republican, a
party that has struggled to boost its black affiliation above 10
percent. In Maryland, after the Sept. 12 primary, the major-party
choice for Senate could come down to two African-Americans.
Whether this year's numbers represent a trend is too early to
say. Let's get through a few more election cycles first, political
analysts say. But these numbers are not just a coincidence. As with
the long-fought rise of women in elective office, African-Americans
have toiled for decades to boost their numbers at the lower
political levels, and are building the resumes usually required for
candidates to upper-level office.
"It's a signal moment in American politics," says Lester Spence,
a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Historically, blacks have faced a steep climb running for
statewide office. Only one African-American - L. Douglas Wilder (D)
of Virginia - has ever won the governorship. In the Senate, only
five blacks have served, including two in the 1870s. If Rep. Harold
Ford Jr. (D) of Tennessee wins his race, he will be the first black
senator from the South since Reconstruction.
But that's a big "if." The Republicans nominated a moderate,
former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, and so it will be a tougher
race for the centrist Mr. Ford than if one of the more right-wing
Republicans in the primary had won. And even though the Ford family
is a brand name in Tennessee politics - Harold Jr.'s father preceded
him in representing the Ninth District for 22 years - the legal
problems of other family members could hurt him.
Polls show a tight race, but "Harold's not going to win without a
strong Demo- cratic wave," says David Bositis, an expert on African-
American politics at the Joint Center for Political and Economic
Studies in Washington.
Of course, the 2006 midterms are showing the telltale signs of a
pro-Democratic "wave" election, with the Republican-controlled White
House and Congress suffering from high negatives. That could help
sink the black Republicans running for statewide office. In
Pennsylvania, the GOP's gubernatorial nominee, retired Pittsburgh
Steeler Lynn Swann, already faced the near-impossible task of
unseating the incumbent Democrat, Ed Rendell.
But in Ohio and Maryland, a more favorable climate toward
Republicans could have been a boon to Ken Blackwell, nominee for
governor in the Buckeye State, and Lt. …